Strawberry Park Elementary School 7-year-old Will Cowman visits with 100-year-old Doak Walker Care Center resident Anna Wichern on Wednesday. Students from the school regularly visit the residents at the Doak.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Strawberry Park Elementary School 7-year-old Will Cowman visits with 100-year-old Doak Walker Care Center resident Anna Wichern on Wednesday. Students from the school regularly visit the residents at the Doak.

Steamboat's Doak Walker Care Center gives residents a new lease on life

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Strawberry Park Elementary School students visit with Doak Walker Care Center resident Mollie Mahony on Wednesday.

— For 100-year-old Anna Wichern, living at the Doak Walker Care Center has allowed her to continue doing one of her favorite things.

“I love children,” Wichern said Wednesday while visiting with Strawberry Park Elementary School student Will Cowman, 7. “It’s such a joy, and they bring happiness. They rejuvenate me.”

Wichern said she never thought she would live to see 100, but being around children helped make it possible.

“There are people that just glow when these children come up and greet them,” said Joanne Cannon, a 96-year-old resident of the Doak Walker Care Center.

Visits from children can offer plenty of variety and spontaneity, which officials said are important characteristics in long-term care environments where boredom, loneliness and helplessness are treated like enemies. To combat them, the staff at “the Doak,” as it’s affectionately known, offers a wide range of activities to give a sense of purpose for residents.

“The residents have an opportunity to give back instead of always being on the receiving end of care,” Doak administrator Lee Dickey said.

The efforts by Dickey and her staff have not gone unnoticed.

For the second consecutive year, the Doak has been listed by U.S. News & World Report as one of the best nursing homes in Colorado. It received a five-star overall rating.

The 59-bed facility attached to the Yampa Valley Medical Center also has received positive reviews directly from its staff members and residents. An independent survey conducted by My InnerView showed that for the second straight year, 100 percent of the residents and family members surveyed rated overall satisfaction as either “excellent” or “good.” The average among all 6,000 facilities surveyed was 88 percent.

The same survey company was used to gather feedback from employees. Of the employees surveyed, 98 percent rated their overall satisfaction as “excellent” or “good.” The average of all the facilities surveyed was 67 percent.

The employee and resident survey results put the Doak in the top 10 percent of long-term care facilities. Ranking that high in both surveys is rare, with only 72 of the 6,000 facilities doing so. Only one other Colorado nursing home achieved the same accomplishment, and the Doak is the only facility in Colorado to do it two years in a row.

“Any recognition our facility gets is a reflection of the staff and the residents,” said Dr. Brian Harrington, the Doak’s medical director.

Since 2005, the Doak has maintained its accreditation as an Eden Alternative facility. It is one of the 23 facilities in Colorado — out of 220 — that follow the Eden philosophy, and Dickey credits it in part to the Doak’s success.

Among the principles of Eden are creating a home by “de-emphasizing top-down bureaucratic authority, seeking instead to place the maximum possible decision-making authority into the hands of the elders or into the hands of those closest to them.”

“We’re constantly telling residents that they’re the boss,” Dickey said.

Access to human and animal companionship is another Eden principle that explains the visits from children and the dogs, cats and even birds that can be found at the Doak.

Employees also are encouraged to develop relationships with the residents.

“They have the patient’s welfare in mind,” said Cannon, who has lived at the Doak for six years. “They’re not here for payday and quitting time. They’re here because they like their work.”

The Eden method also sets forth the medical treatment of residents.

“One of the health risks of our older citizens is they tend to be on too many medications,” said Harrington, who has been the medical director for six years.

In the past five years, the Doak has reduced the average number of medications a resident is taking from 15 to seven, which Harrington said reduced side effects and risks of dangerous interactions.

Despite the Doak’s recent recognitions, Dickey recognizes opportunities for continued improvement.

The proposed new location for the Doak at the Casey’s Pond Senior Living community off Walton Creek Road would allow staff to create an even better environment for residents, Dickey said. For example, Dickey said the nursing station in the middle of the Doak drives her crazy because it gives off a hospital feel.

The Doak also will have the opportunity to expand the Eden training to more staff members once Dickey undergoes five days of training in March.

“That is going to give us a real shot in the arm,” Dickey said. “We will be moving rapidly forward.”

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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