After 24 years in elder care in Steamboat Springs, beginning with the Extended Care Center, and moving on to the Doak Walker Care Center and finally Doak Walker House at Casey's Pond, Lee Dickey is moving to Florida and into semi-retirement, which will involve kayaking rivers that flow into the Gulf Coast.

Photo by Tom Ross

After 24 years in elder care in Steamboat Springs, beginning with the Extended Care Center, and moving on to the Doak Walker Care Center and finally Doak Walker House at Casey's Pond, Lee Dickey is moving to Florida and into semi-retirement, which will involve kayaking rivers that flow into the Gulf Coast.

Doak Walker exec Lee Dickey plans to practice what she preached for 24 years in Steamboat

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— After spending the past 24 years looking after the health and emotional well-being of Routt County’s elderly, Lee Dickey is ready to take a step toward becoming an elder herself. And it’s a subject she takes seriously.

Dickey has announced she is stepping down next week as chief quality and innovation officer at the Doak Walker House in Casey’s Pond Senior Living to move with her husband, Dwain, to a new home in west central Florida. Eventually she’ll look for a less demanding job, Dickey said, but for now, she wants to spend time paddling the crystal clear streams full of manatees that flow through Hernando County into the Gulf of Mexico.

“I’ve had way too many years of 10-hour-plus days and of being on call a lot,” Dickey said this week. “I’m ready to play and have more adventures. The first purchase we’ll make when we get to Florida is two kayaks.”

Before the Doak Walker Care Center at Yampa Valley Medical Care Center made its move to Casey’s Pond last year, Dickey was the administrator and director of nursing. She assumed that role from longtime colleague Carol Schaffer in July 2007. And before that, she began work with the elderly at the Extended Care Center at the old Routt Memorial Hospital in 1985.

During almost a quarter of a century, Dickey had much opportunity to reflect on the aging process in modern American culture and the expectations society places on the elderly.

“I have worked to change the culture of nursing homes,” Dickey said. “I guess I see it now as more of an issue of our entire society and how we view old people. Instead of viewing old age as another stage of development and growth, you’re only valued if you continue to act like a middle-aged person. What we need to be looking at, and it will help us to value our elders, is that this is another stage of life. We need to move out of adulthood into something new, different and better.”

Former Yampa Valley Medical Center CEO Karl Gills would probably not be surprised to hear Dickey’s point of view.

“Lee was well ahead of most people in the long-term skilled care environment when it came to residents being considered as individuals in a congregate living situation, each having their own needs and wishes,” he wrote in an email interview.

Dickey feels strongly that aging adults should be allowed to slow down and shouldn’t be valued by their productivity and the length of their daily to-do lists. Just as we expect our offspring to advance through different stages of developmental life, we should permit the elderly to make their own life transitions.

“We make people who are old be ashamed of their age. You wouldn’t tell an adult, ‘I want you to start acting like a teenager,’ but we tell old people to be an adult,” Dickey said.

With her former colleague and predecessor at the Doak, Dickey helped to win national awards for the care given to elderly people by supporting the concept of having a preschool adjacent to the Doak to foster mingling between elders and young children. They brought pets and cages filled with singing birds into the Doak to make sure its residents still were able to appreciate the joys of life.

Much of what they ascribed to came from the Eden Alternative. It’s a nonprofit whose tenets include the belief that: “An elder is someone who, by virtue of life experience, is here to teach us how to live.”

Gills pointed out that Dickey was instrumental in helping the Doak become the second officially designated Eden Care Facility in Colorado, and she worked extra hard to make the move to Casey’s Pond successful.

“Lee was a key to a successful transition,” Gills said.  “This is true for both the physical move and the transition of the care processes and philosophies that enable the same high level of care and compassion at Casey's Pond."

Dickey is too young to retire — she’ll turn 61 later this summer, but she’ll take her time settling into her new home and putting her new kayak to use before looking for a part-time job.

“We want to whittle it down to where we have a little more time to play,” Dickey said.

And to begin to the process of easing into elderhood.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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