Come evening, an elderly resident at the Doak Walker Care Center used to fret about who would feed the chickens.
Instead of continually reminding the woman that there were no chickens, the staff at the skilled nursing facility bought five chicks.
Residents now feed and watch the colorful full-grown chickens, which are housed in a large pen off the facility's patio.
The chickens are among the many ways Doak staff strive to create a homey environment with activities that engage residents and make them feel useful and fulfilled.
The center, in Steamboat Springs since 1979 and part of the Yampa Valley Medical Center, specializes in long-term, 24-hour care and short-term recovery stays for adults of any age recovering from illness or injury.
Staff began developing a more personal model of care early on with the GrandKids Child Care Center, which matches willing residents with children through the special friends program.
The facility has resident birds, fish, lots of plants, a summer garden and a recently remodeled dining room where residents can bake bread and cookies while enjoying the smells of home.
The Eden Alternative, a national organization advocating a more holistic approach to elderly care, recognized the Doak's efforts this year.
The Doak Walker Care Center is only one of two Eden-certified facilities in Colorado.
"The goal of Eden is to create a human habitat for elders to live in," nurse manager Lee Dickey said.
Programs and activities aim to eliminate loneliness, helplessness and boredom the three "plagues" of growing old, she said.
Specific nurses and staff are assigned to a group of residents, helping facilitate ongoing relationships between residents and caregivers.
They also bond through book clubs, weekly buffets and other social occasions.
Whether residents are tending to orchids, feeding chickens or fish, reading to children or making welcome bags for new residents, they are encouraged to be caregivers.
Staff also add spontaneity to residents' routines by taking them to McDonald's or Starbucks, bringing in miniature horses for a "mini rodeo" or taking seniors on trips to Fish Creek Falls and Strings in the Mountains concerts.
"Culture change" at the Doak helped garner the facility an award this year for Certified Nurse Aid Facility.
The award, voted on by CNAs across the state, speaks both to the quality of staff and working environment at the Doak, said Christine McKelvie, public relations director for YVMC.
"That was very meaningful," she said "The CNAs are very important staff members who are vital to operations."
The center has 59 beds and usually has between 55 and 59 residents. The cost to stay at the facility is $185 per day for a semi-private room and $200 per day for a private room.
Most patients are on Medicare or Medicaid, McKelvie said.
In addition to elderly care and rehabilitation - including occupational, physical and speech therapy - the Doak also partners with the Visiting Nurse Association to offer hospice care.
The facility works with The Haven Assisted Living Center in Hayden and also has resources to help caregivers find the best option for a family member.
"We always encourage people to call us," McKelvie said.
For more information, call 870-1208.