Using his feet to propel himself, Jack wheels down the hallway toward the main activity room. Only pausing briefly to wave at caregivers and fellow residents he passes along the way, his demeanor is peaceful; his mind is anything but.
Jack is one of about a dozen long-term residents at Shuksan Healthcare Center, a 52-bed short-term rehabilitation and skilled nursing facility in Bellingham. Where the vast majority of residents are gone seemingly as quickly as they arrive – only at Shuksan for post-hospitalization rehab – Jack lives here.
Shuksan is his home.
For many seniors, like Jack, who find themselves in a nursing facility, sometimes unexpectedly, the thought of never going back home is one that can cause much anxiety and stress. The “mind/body connection” is not a newly documented theory when it comes to how our emotional state effects our physical well-being. Consider the connection between highly stressful situations and how they often result in physical conditions such as high blood pressure, insomnia, stomach ulcers, weight gain/loss and stiffness in neck and back muscles.
For those with compromised immune systems, these emotional responses trigger physical reactions that can prove to be life altering.
To help alleviate this stress for residents, Shuksan works tirelessly to create an environment for its residents, both short- and long-term, that exudes the sights, sounds and smells of home.
From the moment you enter the front doors, you’re greeted by over-sized and lush plants, the singing of lively parakeets, warm smiles and friendly faces, and most usually, the wagging tail of Shuksan’s 9-year old black Labrador therapy dog, Prince (who’s also slightly over-sized and currently on a diet). The smell of freshly baked bread nudges its way into your nostrils each afternoon, and if you closed your eyes for just a moment, you could imagine that you were, indeed, home.
Your room has a welcoming gift bag with a few doggy treats tied to it and, most likely, you’ll find one of Shuksan’s four resident cats (usually Faux, pronounced “fox”) slumbering atop your bedspread. The cats, whom were all raised at the rehab center, are quite amusing in their efforts to stake claim when they locate a quiet place to sprawl out and laze.
The main activity room is abuzz with the sounds of piano playing, maracas shaking and voices singing along with the music. Arts and crafts created by the residents adorn walls throughout the halls and dining areas. And, because this all isn’t enough to make you want to pack your bags and move in, we’ll add the squeals of children laughing.
The sounds of music, the socialization of arts/crafts and the love of family, you see, are just as important to rehabilitation as any other type of therapy we can offer our residents.
“Our ultimate goal when it comes to the welfare of our residents is that they feel comfortable, safe and free; free to be themselves in an unfamiliar environment,” said Shannon Richardson, Administrator, Shuksan Healthcare Center. “By offering a full-circle approach to rehabilitation, we’re able to physically heal our residents’ ailments while also providing mental stimulation and fulfillment.”
The feeling of “home” is oftentimes more emotional than it is a physical location. Home is somewhere you can be yourself; a place that doesn’t judge you. Home is where you feel safe, secure and comfortable.
“For many, the last place they would choose to be is a nursing facility,” added Richardson. “So, if we can provide the comforts of home and put their minds at ease during their stay with us, our odds of providing a positive experience for them increase.”
Back to Jack…
While Jack had originally come to Shuksan as a short-term rehab patient, additional health issues would prove problematic to his safe return home. Jack is now our family and we are his.
We celebrate his birthdays with cake and ice cream, he opens gifts on Christmas morning, he oversees his own cherry tomato plants in the courtyard each spring, and he actively contributes to the socialization and smiles of those around him each day. Jack is like our resident grandpa and we love him. Intuition tells me that he, too, loves us in return.
We represent his home.
So, if Dorothy was right and there really is no place like home… Shuksan will be that for Jack and for all who choose to come through our doors.