St. Benedict’s Health Center and Benedict Court
Not-For-Profit Program of the Year
The 2014 AHCA/NCAL Awards recipient for the Not-For-Profit Program of the Year is St. Benedict’s Health Center and Benedict Court, Dickinson, N.D., for its community benefit, called Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE). Jon Frantsvog is administrator/chief executive officer of the health center, and Michelle Hinrichs, RN, manages the Benedict Court Housing and Home Care Services, which houses the PACE program, operational since 2008.
“The program offers a team approach and individualized attention to health care and in-home services for participants,” Frantsvog explained. “A care team includes a physician, nurses, social worker, aides, rehabilitation specialist, and dietician. PACE participants have full access to Benedict Court’s services and activities such as dining, religious services, beauty shop, and so on,” he said.
“PACE is truly a community benefit. It is designed to allow seniors who otherwise may need skilled nursing care to stay at home and live independently,” said Hinrichs. “Quality of life is improved via detailed care planning and comprehensive access to health care services.”
According to Timothy Cox, president of Northland Healthcare Alliance, of which St. Benedict’s is a part, “We have a significant impact on the well-being of those we serve,” he said. “Our regular surveys indicate that participants love the program, and in many cases their health improves because for the first time they have a team that is helping them with their health services.”
One family member in an endorsement letter noted that because of “the efforts of the PACE program and the experienced care and support of PACE staff, my mother is aging with dignity, and we are eternally grateful for this wonderful program.” Music to the ears of anyone involved with the long term care community.
—Tom Burke
Alicia Durham
Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (ID/DD) Hero of the Year
Alicia DurhamAlicia Durham, Eureka, Calif., is the 2014 AHCA/NCAL recipient of the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (ID/DD) Hero of the Year award. Durham works at Butler Valley, Carole Sund Center.

Butler Valley cares for individuals with Downs syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, and other forms of mild to profound developmental disabilities under the banner of “We serve with respect, compassion, and skill, building lives and reaching potential.”

“Alicia was instrumental in establishing our Carole Sund day care center, which is a small farm. The farm allows our clients to learn valuable life and vocational skills through growing crops, caring for farm animals, landscaping, and the like,” explained Suzette Ott, executive director of Butler Valley. “Clients have the added benefit of eating the organic produce and eggs that they worked to produce.”

If life is about dedication to a cause larger than oneself, then Durham is a perfect role model. She ensures that residents live a quality life and a life filled with pride in their accomplishments of self-sustaining farming, physical exercise, and earning a wage based on the proceeds of the farm.

“Everyone benefits as Alicia also fosters relationships in the community to help with sales of the produce
to local businesses,” Ott said. “In turn, the community has become a great supporter of our mission and clients.”

It may sound like this honoree is all business, but that is far from the case. Common terms in her nomination included “inspiration,” “joy,” and “respect.”

Some people say it takes a village to care for someone, yet at Butler Valley that caring starts with Alicia Durham doing her best for her buddies.
—Tom Burke
Bailey Austin Combs
Young Adult Volunteer of the Year
Bailey Austin CombsSixteen-year-old Bailey Austin Combs, Amburgey, Ky., is the 2014 AHCA/NCAL recipient of the Young Adult Volunteer of the Year award. Combs volunteers at the Knott County Health and Rehabilitation Center, Hindman, Ky.

“Bailey has an unparalleled ability to connect with our elderly population. I like to say he is an ‘old soul’ wrapped in a young body,” said Ruby Pigman, administrator at Knott County Health and Rehab Center. “His activity of choice is gardening, and every year he manages to involve residents in growing tomatoes, onions, and a variety of luscious green vegetables.”

Tilling the land is seen in terms of resident experiences. “Farming and gardening play a significant role in our home town, and Bailey enables our residents to continue doing something they have long cherished,” Pigman said as she explained how gardening goes hand in hand with the care center’s mission to create a homelike, person-centered environment. “He is a mirror image of our residents’ younger years,” she said.

“He involves each and every resident who wants to help to the extent possible,” said Hollie Thacker, activity director. “Bailey has the utmost patience with residents, whether they can help him hoe or just offer sage advice. He truly is a people person.”

The busy teen volunteer also recently involved his high school football team in making visits to the residents and helping with various activities. Not surprisingly, Combs’ nomination was supported by his high school football coach at Knott Central High School, Steve Hollon, who wrote, “In my 21 years of experience of interacting with young adults, some individuals stand out for their great qualities, and Bailey is one of those people. He is truly a positive, motivated leader with amazing potential.”

Folks he interacts with in the long term care community agree.
—Tom Burke
Ruth-Ann Harrod
Adult Volunteer of the Year
Ruth-Ann HarrodRuth-Ann Harrod, Wesley, Maine, is the 2014 AHCA/NCAL recipient of the Adult Volunteer of the Year award. Ruth-Ann volunteers at the Maine Veterans’ Home in Machias, Maine.

“Ruth-Ann connects with the residents as soon as she walks into the facility, bringing smiles to their faces with just her presence,” said Marcia Jackson, RN, administrator at the Maine Veterans’ Home.

“She excels at projects and activities that are resident-centered and designed to stimulate memory. Ruth-Ann creates ways to focus on person-centered dementia care and connects with residents through sights, sounds, and smells.” 

Harrod’s creative connections help engage residents with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. She delights in bringing back childhood memories, which is popular with residents. Her unique ideas include creating pinecone angels to watch over residents, a royal baby shower anticipating Prince George’s birth (gifts were donated to organizations that provided baby items for mothers in need), and even crafting a portable Morse code device for a World War II veteran who had been a Morse coder operator.

Harrod is committed to residents, families, and staff. She arrives with a smile on her face and acts as a great motivator. “If a resident is having a bad day, she can bring on a smile just by sitting one on one and sharing a story or a walk with somebody,” says Activity Coordinator Jennifer Wood.

“She has a friendly persona, difficult to match,” noted resident Edward Browne. Other residents she has met notice Harrod’s generosity with her time, money, crafts, food, and going that extra mile to reach out to residents and staff. She also engages the community, especially through social media, and contributes to developing a positive image of long term health care.

The bottom line for the Maine Veterans’ Home is that Harrod is fulfilling its mission of “Caring for those who served,” and she does it with great compassion and tenderness.
—Tom Burke
Amory High School Health Class, with Sara Beth Pearson
Group Volunteer of the Year
Sara Beth PearsonThis year’s award honorees demonstrate a model of behavior that is selfless, compassionate, and enhances the lives of the elderly and individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities in their communities.

The Amory High School Health Class, Amory, Miss., and teacher Sara Beth Pearson, who supervises the program, are the 2014 AHCA/NCAL recipients of the award. Pearson’s class has been visiting the residents of the Golden Living Center for the past two years, and it accounts for approximately 73 hours of visitation per week during the school year. Students participate in their junior and senior years of high school.

This program represents a model of behavior that is compassionate and enhances the lives of the elderly and individuals with disabilities at the care center and introduces students to experiences and lessons that will endure throughout their adulthood.

“The high school juniors and seniors provide residents with undivided attention and one-on-one time that is such a precious gift,” said Margaret Deaton, executive director of Golden Living Centers - Amory.

“Students also help with all social activities, especially at Christmas time, call games like Bingo, organize crafts, and assist with the restorative exercise program. An especially good project for the students is interviewing residents for their life stories. This activity helps residents reminisce about the ‘good old days’ with the teens,” she noted.

“The students improve the quality of life for residents, and they learn life lessons about life, illness, and death,” said Dian Wilemon, recreation services director at the Amory care center. “This environment will help the student volunteers decide if they want to pursue a career in health care, but for some the lessons learned are about aging, tolerance, and matters of the heart,” she said.

Many students also volunteer on their own time for additional projects or just to be nice. In fact, one Christmas day Pearson was at the care center and happened to see a student there, too. When asked about being there, the student replied that he “wanted to wish the residents a Merry Christmas.” That is not bad for a teenager, eh?
—Tom Burke
Jean Cannon
NCAL Administrator of the Year
Jean CannonJean Cannon, Loveland, Colo., is the 2014 NCAL Administrator of the Year. Cannon is the executive director of Aspen House Memory Care Assisted Living, where all residents have Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.

During her four-year tenure, Cannon has been instrumental in promoting person-centered care for her residents. She encourages families and residents to decorate the community with the residents’ personal items, paintings, and photos. Cannon also carefully examines the processes of the community to ensure residents are comfortable.

“When Jean recognized that a couple of the residents were unsettled every day at 2:00 p.m., she realized it was because of the staff shift-change activity,” said Carmy Jerome, assistant director of Aspen House. “She immediately implemented a different process to ease the anxiety of the residents.”

Cannon understands that each resident is unique and develops care plans specific to their needs, preferences, and interests. “A resident enjoyed dining at a local restaurant but was unable to travel,” said Jerome. “Jean brought him takeout once a month.”

The community’s attention to end-of-life care is another way Cannon honors the individuals residing in Aspen House. She has provided training to all staff members on the death and dying process to ease the strain on care partners. Cannon provides families an assortment of goods and rearranges furniture to provide families with small comforts.

Cannon not only respects each individual resident, but also her staff. Under her leadership, Project Visibility was launched at Aspen House to help staff become aware and affirming of the lives of elders who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) and their families. Cannon enhanced the training to incorporate sensitivity toward LGBT staff members as well.

Accolades are nothing new for Cannon. She was named Administrator of the Year by the Colorado Health Care Association in 2013, and Aspen House won first place for Best Customer Service in the city of Loveland.
—Rachel Reeves 
Laura Cardillo, RN, CDP, CVW
NCAL Nurse of the Year
Laura Cardillo, Hillsborough, N.J., is the 2014 NCAL Nurse of the Year. She has been director of wellness at The Avalon at Hillsborough since it opened more than seven years ago.

Cardillo is credited with maintaining the high standard of care at the deficiency-free Avalon at Hillsborough through her infectious enthusiasm and encouragement. “Staff often comment on her genuine compassion, respect, and dedication to the well-being of our residents,” said Ella Furlong, executive director of the community. “Residents trust her, and family members express the peace they have in knowing their loved one is in her care.”

Recognizing the staff at The Avalon is one way Cardillo keeps morale high. She posts letters of appreciation in the staff lounge and relays kind words from families. Furlong said staff respond to her leadership with “cooperation and teamwork.”

As a certified dementia care practitioner, certified validation worker, and an Alzheimer’s Association Caregiver Support Group facilitator, Cardillo likes to spread her dementia knowledge to those at The Avalon.

During National Alzheimer’s and Dementia Staff Education Week, Cardillo organized interactive classes for employees, outside speakers for residents and their families, and a visit from the mayor, who issued a proclamation on the importance of dementia education. Cardillo’s program won a first place award from the National Council of Certified Dementia Practitioners.

Beyond her own expertise, Cardillo also seeks input from family members, staff, and other professionals to determine the best care plan for each resident.

“I’ve seen the relief in the faces of residents who come to her for medical attention or advice,” said Furlong. “With kindness in her voice and positive words, she discusses difficult topics with gentleness, always keeping the resident’s dignity in mind.”
—Rachel Reeves
Riverside Lodge Retirement Community
NCAL National Assisted Living Week® Programming
Cathy RoarkResident Services Coordinator Cathy Roark and the staff at Riverside Lodge Retirement Community, Grand Island, Neb., are the recipients of the 2014 NCAL National Assisted Living Week® (NALW) Programming award. 

As NALW approached September 2013, Roark considered what memories residents cherish and how they could be incorporated into the activities during NALW. Staff decorated the community with items from the past, including an old sewing machine, which reminded one resident of “the one my mother taught me how to sew on.” A butter churn stirred another resident, who said, “I had forgotten there was a time when I was young.”

Riverside Lodge kicked off NALW with Family Day, which included a Sunday dinner with favorites like roast beef, fried chicken, homemade biscuits, and apple pie. Families could purchase baked goods and homemade soaps and bath scrubs—all made by the residents—to raise funds for the local Cub Scouts. The Boy and Girl Scout troops also joined the residents to make pinewood racers and rag dolls. “It is important for our residents to feel connected and vital to the community they live in,” said Deb Friend, executive director of Riverside Lodge.

Residents showcased their patriotic values by writing letters and making Christmas cards for men and women serving overseas. Additionally, Riverside Lodge put on a pet show and cooking competition, and the community tailgated for University of Nebraska football game.

Roark also recognized staff for their efforts. Each day, a different department of staff members were honored as Happiness Heroes and invited to share a meal with the residents. “Our staff is so ready to jump right in to encourage the residents to attend and participate in the activities, not just [this week], but all year long,” said Friend.
—Rachel Reeves
Connie Leinberger
Noble Caregiver in Assisted Living
Connie LeinbergerConnie Leinberger is the 2014 NCAL Noble Caregiver of the Year. Leinberger has been the activity coordinator at Riverview Village, Menomonee Falls, Wis., for just over a year and has already transformed a traditional activity program into one that is individualized and improving the quality of life for residents. “From the moment she walked into my office, inquiring if there were volunteer opportunities at our community, her joy of service shone through,” said Riverview Village Director of Operations Lisa Benfield. “Our lives have been blessed from the moment Connie began as activity coordinator.”

Included among the many person-centered activities Leinberger has developed for residents is a hand bell choir that holds monthly concerts for the community and families. Twice a month, residents enjoy Spa Day with hand and foot massages from a licensed massage therapist, along with aroma and music therapies.

Those interested in spending time in the kitchen now enjoy a regular cooking class, thanks to Leinberger.
Riverview Village patrons have savored chicken dumpling soup, German potato salad, and desserts created by their fellow residents.

Leinberger has helped residents give back to the surrounding Menomonee Falls community. During the holiday season, residents packed and delivered packages of supplies to Operation Christmas Child—Samaritan Purse.

Outside organizations and volunteers have become more connected with the community as well. The local Girl Scout troops, pet therapists, Seniors Helping Seniors, high school students, families from the community, and spiritual leaders have extended their services to Riverview Village.

Due to her successes, Leinberger is now a trainer within the Harmony Living Center company.

“There isn’t a day that goes by that her heartfelt exuberance of giving to our residents is not expressed by the endless smile on her face,” Benfield said.
—Rachel Reeves