Years in the making: Joliet nursing home undergoes a change

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Years in the making: Joliet nursing home undergoes a change
Years in the making: Joliet nursing home undergoes a change
Over the last 40 years, Sunny Hill Nursing Home in Joliet, IL, has stayed pretty much the same. A little bit of new flooring and the miscellaneous coat of fresh paint were about the only improvements the county-owned skilled nursing facility received.

In 2005, Sunny Hill's administrators and Will County officials decided it was time for change.

In full embrace of the patient-centered care model and the culture change movement, Sunny Hill has embarked upon a large-scale, multi-phase renovation that, once completed, will see the old institutional-style facility reborn as a modern center for senior care.

Sunny Hill's layout includes six L-shaped, 50-bed resident units.

“It kind of reminds me of the arms off of a spider,” says Administrator Karen Isberg Sorbero.

Work begins

A year before construction was due to begin, Sorbero began dropping the facility's census from 300 to about 250. Once the census was low enough that an entire unit could be cleared, construction began.

At first, Sorbero and her crews tried to do some fix-up work, but they found that after 40 years, there was simply too much damage. Water dripping from leaky plumbing had eaten through some of the interior walls and timeworn insulation had to be completely replaced.

So the interior walls came down, and the construction team gutted the entire wing, explains architect Joe Wiener with Farnsworth Group, Inc. Resident rooms, corridors and shower areas were rebuilt with a more homelike feel.

In the corridors, floor tiles and pale-green walls were replaced with wood-look floors and wainscoting; fluorescent overhead lighting was replaced with decorative sconces. Doors received a similar treatment with new wood trim and fresh paint. Wiener used a high-impact plastic product to protect the doors.

“It looks like wood, but it'll take the abuse from the carts and the chairs,” he says.

Plastic shower tiles were replaced with ceramic, and bath areas were made big enough that a resident could be bathed and dried in privacy. Toilet areas finally were made handicap-accessible.

Residents respond

As part of their resident-centered approach to care, Sorbero and her staff held meetings with the residents to get their input.

“The best meeting I've ever attended in my whole life was the meeting where the residents were able to make decisions about the finishes,” she says. “Residents who I never thought would have something to contribute were like, ‘Here, let me see that wallpaper again, let me see that.' It was fantastic to watch it.”

“The first wing was so successful,” she adds, “that they actually had to have a lottery with the first patients to see who was going to move into that wing.”

Sunny Hill wrapped up construction on the third phase of its project this month.
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