Facilitator Steve Shields leads a session in May 2012.  

Ask anyone involved in a transformational process during the summer of 2012, and they’ll tell you it was a unique, unforgettable experience.

Nearly 90 people gathered several times to grapple with the concept of home – what it is, what it looks like and how to create it for people who need 24/7 nursing care.

From launderers, housekeepers, maintenance workers and certified nurse assistants (CNAs), to residents, volunteers and executive officers, the assembled group represented the spectrum of stakeholders.

Their facilitator, Steve Shields, helped develop the household model of care in Manhattan, Kansas, fifteen years ago. He first led the group in a discussion of home: What makes a place a home? How does it feel to live there? How many homes have you lived in throughout your lifetime? What are the “daily pleasures” you enjoy there?

Would those things you enjoy most be available to you in a nursing home?

The group, collectively, responded no. Over the past several decades, through a combination of government regulations and overemphasis on medical care, the best of intentions had produced an institutional model of care that could meet someone’s health needs but not provide home. Or anything that remotely resembled it.

With that question settled, the group’s attention turned to designing a new way, both in daily structure and design. Shields deftly managed the microphone, seeking input and then calling for votes on various topics: What size is ideal for a bedroom? Should there be a garage? Did visitors need a half bath or full? What about outdoor access?

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Architects from AHTS in Waterloo brought their computers. They started with a blank slate and created the design from scratch, based on the group’s decisions and revisions, as financial analysts sat nearby, computing what various models would cost.

Initial efforts focused on repurposing Martin Health Center, the current nursing home for 100 residents, into four households to serve 20 residents each. This required maneuvering around walls and windows, adding on and living with long hallways.

Next, the group designed a craftsman-style, freestanding cottage to house the additional 20 residents.

Then, a final question: Did it make sense to do it that way?

Participants reached the unanimous conclusion that repurposing Martin Health Center wasn’t enough. To do it right for the people who would live there called for its eventual replacement by cottages on south campus.

In the midst of celebrating the 100th anniversary of Western Home Communities, this group looked to the future. The second century of service started with a resolve to put home back into nursing home.

Now the Cedar Valley watches as the vision unfolds. The completion of cottage construction marks the true beginning of this journey. The next – and most exciting – steps are watching residents live their daily lives with purpose, dignity and spontaneity, in the place they call home.

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