This week from reWorking Michigan, our Monday report looks at caring for the elderly.
In Williamston, Todd Walter has opened a small facility he calls Crosaires, which is Gaelic for Crossroads.
After 19 years in the elder care business, Walter now feels he’s changing the industry for the better.
Meet Virginia Ellefson. She’s 93 years old, and during my visit to Crosaires, she proudly showed me a little painting hanging in her room. Her grandmother was eight years old when she painted it.
“Can you imagine an eight year old girl doing that? POHL: It’s beautiful. It’s a portrait of a little girl holding a cat or a kitten. VIRGINIA: Yeah, uh-huh, and her handwriting is on the back of it, if you can see it. POHL: Let’s see…18…is that a 71 or a 91? VIRGINIA: I think probably 91. POHL: At age 8. VIRGINIA: Yeah. POHL: My gosh.”
Homey touches like this one abound at Crosaires. Elders decorate their rooms however they like. They don’t spend their days in institutional chairs; they bring their own chairs from their former homes. Artwork and mementos from their lives are intermingled in the living room.
And owner Todd Walter organizes outings like trips to farmers markets and riding in the Williamston homecoming parade. He also brings in entertainers, including a harpist and even bagpipes.
Too often, he says, the elder care business has confused treatment with care.
“We feel by passing pills or physical therapy, occupational (therapy), which are all very important, that we’re treating people…that we’re caring for people, excuse me. We’re treating them,” Walter proclaims. ”True care comes when you truly know a person, who they are, and their medical is just one sliver of that pie.”
That medical care includes providers who visit to draw blood, or transportation to doctor appointments when there isn’t a family member available to do it.
The results can be startling.
Walter says one of his residents had been sleeping 22 hours a day before moving into Crosaires.
“He worked for 37 years at GM,” Walter continues. “He’s a man of his hands. In the short time that he’s lived here, he has put together a lawn mower, put together all the benches that you see on the property, helped build the deck over here. He’s not sleeping 22 hours a day.”
Walter has ten acres of land here, and says he still has a lot to do on 9.8 of those acres. The back yard boasts a chipping green for golfers, a fire pit, and mowed pathways for nature walks.
Crosaires opened in April and was full a month later. Now, there’s a waiting list to get in.
STAFF SHARES POSITIVE ATTITUDE
Dana Perrien had worked in elder care for 13 years before taking a job as a care partner at Crosaires. This, he says, is different from any other place he’s worked.
“What I look for when I go home at night,” Perrien explains, “did they have a better day because I was here? Since working here, there hasn’t been a day that I’ve left that I haven’t had that thought, that other places I’ve been busy, but I didn’t feel like I accomplished anything.”
Perrien apparently isn’t the only staffer with that kind of attitude. Here’s Virginia Ellefson, the lady we met earlier.
“I have one lady that tells me every night when she tucks me in bed when she’s here, when it’s her night,” Ellefson states, “she tells me she loves me! That’s a pretty good feeling! I tell her I love her too, because it makes me feel good to have that kind of a reaction!”
Crosaires is licensed to house six elders in this four-bedroom house. Right now, five people…three singles and a married couple…live here. Todd Walter could squeeze in a sixth person somewhere, but he won’t do that. Instead, he’s considering converting a garage into two more bedrooms. That way, if he ever has six residents, they’ll all have some privacy.
In a country with a baby boomer generation heading for their twilight years, places like Crosaires could be an increasingly important piece of the elder care puzzle.
ReWorking Michigan examines our evolving economy, as citizens of the Great Lake State explore new ways to make a living and build a future for their families. A project of WKAR NewsRoom, WKAR-TV and WKAR Online.