Steamboat Springs Unless you have a friend or relative living at the Doak Walker Care Center, you may be oblivious to the fact that a new era is about to begin at one of Steamboat Springs' most important institutions.
Fortunately, there isn't much expected to change at the "Doak" when longtime staffer Lee Dickey assumes the role Carol Schaffer has steadfastly carried out for 23 years. The two women have been colleagues for many years.
Schaffer's last day on the job as administrator and director of nursing at the care center will be July 6. She and husband, Bob, are off to a new life in Tennessee.
Yampa Valley Medical Center spokeswoman Christine McKelvie said Schaffer's true contribution to the community is difficult to gauge, but in some ways, it's easy to quantify. During her decades here, she and her staff have enhanced the lives of 1,800 residents. Assume each has five or six family members, and Schaffer and her staff touched the lives of about 10,000 people.
Schaffer and Dickey have worked together since the days of the old Extended Care Center at Routt Memorial Hospital. Dickey knows what the job demands.
"The Doak has a very high reputation in this state," Dickey said. Yampa Valley Medical Center spokeswoman Christine McKelvie said Schaffer has built that reputation throughout the years by setting a "very high standard for the staff."
"The staff and families are really happy that it's Lee who is taking over when Carol retires," McKelvie said.
The Doak provides a residential care setting that meets the needs of patients ranging from people with debilitating diseases to geriatric patients and younger people who need to stay in the hospital for an extended time while they recover from surgery.
Evidence in the level of care can be found in the ratio of staffers to patients - there are 75 employees in a facility with 59 beds. Typically, 55 to 57 of the beds are full.
In addition to support staff and management, there are key employees responsible for quality management, staff development, a care conference coordinator, a social services coordinator and activities coordinator. The Doak also has staff members who work with residents on rehabilitation and therapy.
The staff welcomes calls from the public inquiring about how to plan for and provide the long-term care of their family members.
However, statistics don't tell the story at the Doak, which suscribes to the Eden Alternative philosophy.
There are pets in residence and a childcare center next door that allows residents of the Doak to interact with youngsters.
"One of the biggest changes during my tenure has been the change in culture to an Eden facility," Shaffer said. "It makes sense that nursing homes would be more homelike than institutional and run on more of a social model than a medical model. It's a good thing and the right thing to do."
The Eden Alternative is an approach to providing long-term care that is based on the belief that aging should be a continued stage of development rather than a period of decline.
Dickey pledged that during her tenure, the Doak would continue to provide a living environment that allows residents to lead rewarding lives. Dickey played a major role in getting the Doak immersed in the Eden Alternative.
"Life doesn't stop because you walk in that door," Dickey said. "We look at what our residents can offer us. They read to grandkids, teach others to crochet and play piano."
Schaffer came to Steamboat from a large hospital in suburban Chicago in 1984 and found a job in nursing at the Extended Care Center. As she grew in her career here, she took on more and more responsibilities. During her tenure as administrator, she stopped counting how many hours she worked at a community institution that is always "open for business."
"It's not a job you can easily get away from," she acknowledged.
Her colleagues and clients hate to see her walk away from the Doak, but the Schaffers are looking forward to escaping winter on the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee.