Tina Kies, Shuksan Healthcare Center

Every morning, Arlene rolls her wheelchair over to the large picture window in her room. From this vantage point, she can see it all: squirrels chasing one another up and down the large trees, cars passing by on the adjacent street, and the day’s weather which often provides an easy conversation starter with other residents.

Arlene relocated to Shuksan Healthcare Center, a short-term rehabilitation and skilled nursing facility in Bellingham, after a knee replacement. It was her daughter that had given her the news that she couldn’t return straight home after surgery. She needed time to rehab and heal; she wouldn’t be able to do it on her own at home.


What do you mean I’m not going home?

How long do I have to stay at this place?

Will I have any independence?

Will these strangers take care of me?

Will I drain all of my finances?

Will I ever go back to my home?


Such poignant, valid questions.

Like so many of Shuksan’s residents, this was Arlene’s first time at a skilled nursing facility. She didn’t know what to expect and, as a result, fear set in. Her main concern was reflected in her last question: “Will I ever go back to my home?”

Maya Angelou once said, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

As caregivers to a primarily older adult population, Shuksan makes grave considerations when it concerns the emotional needs of its residents. Creating a home-like environment is one way in which they do this.

From arrival, Arlene was greeted with genuine compassion and warmth. Promptly taken to her room by our bubbly Admissions Coordinator, Ashley, she noticed a ribbon-adorned gift bag with some dog treats tied to it as well as a packet full of helpful information, including a tv channel directory which immediately made her happy.

Faux, one of four Shuksan cats, arose from his slumber on Arlene’s bed and sat curiously, watching as she was seated in the room’s leather recliner. When he realized that his space had just been invaded, Faux leapt to the floor and sauntered his way down the hallway.

No more than 20 minutes later, a large black Labrador made his way into Arlene’s room. His name tag read “Prince” and he certainly had that air about him. Distinguished and regal, he knew that he was royalty at Shuksan. Arlene asked her daughter to swiftly untie the bag of dog treats from her welcome bag and hand her one—and just as if he knew the routine, with tail in full swing, Prince, Shuksan’s 9-year old therapy dog, made his way to her side and carefully took the treat from her dainty fingers. Then, poof, he was gone.

The first couple of days passed with a blur, but once she got settled in, Arlene was quickly able to appreciate the various ways in which Shuksan’s team of caregivers ensured her physical ease and emotional comfort.

Her first indication that Shuksan would be a positive experience was when she awoke to see the digital clock flash 8:12 AM. “They didn’t wake me up,” she thought to herself. This was not a hospital stay where monitors and nurses would stir her awake at all hours of the night. At Shuksan, she would be given the opportunity to heal.

Further adding to her contentment, the staff at Shuksan provided opportunities for Arlene to feel in control, in a situation where self-reliance lacked. They gave her choices at meal time, including what to eat and where to eat it. They provided snacks throughout the day and beverage choices from juices, tea or (what became) Arlene’s favorite, mochas. And, even though, her priority at Shuksan was rehabilitation, she found enjoyment in the weekly sing-a-longs and daily crosswords that Emily, the eager Activity Director, would offer to her.

During her 23-day rehab stay, the therapy team proved invaluable, encouraging Arlene to push herself with positive reinforcement and genuine compassion. They created a treatment plan unique to her individual needs and comfort level.

In the end, as if her original fears had completely dissolved, as caregivers lined the hall to say so long, Arlene’s parting words with a smile said it all: “Do I have to go back home already?”

Tina L. Kies is the Community Relations Director for Shuksan Healthcare Center, a locally-owned 52-bed short-term rehabilitation and skilled nursing facility in Bellingham, Washington. She has nearly 20 years of professional marketing experience across varied disciplines.