A home by Providence

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A home by Providence
A home by Providence

In speaking with Sister Barbara Ann Zeller, it's clear that the Catholic nun is a force to be reckoned with.

A member of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary of the Woods, Zeller overcame multiple hurdles — including a moratorium on the use of state Medicaid funds for skilled nursing beds — to develop The Villas at Guerin Woods. It is a skilled nursing facility in the southern Indiana town of Georgetown. Zeller is the president, founder and CEO of Providence Self Sufficiency Ministries, which operates the villas and other health and family services.

Built under the household model, the villas comprise four buildings with 10 beds each. One building delivers assisted living and three provide skilled nursing care. Two more households are under construction.

The community's architect, Lynn Armstrong, can testify to Zeller's motivation to create a unique facility: “She does have a lot of foresight and determination and drive to serve the community. She's had a vision for this campus and followed through.”

The villas are situated on a 28-acre campus that also include independent senior living apartments, group homes for foster children and low-income families, and a primary care clinic for low-income individuals.

Zeller, who has overseen the building of several different types of facilities for seniors, has a master's degree in gerontology. Having the skilled nursing villas located on the same campus as the foster children and group homes creates a family-like atmosphere at Guerin Woods.

“A creek runs through the campus, and the elders love to sit outside and listen to the laughter of the children. It's like an extended-family setting,” Zeller explains. Residents can take walks through the campus' one-acre garden, which has serpentine sidewalks, raised flowerbeds, a vegetable garden and gas grills for picnics.

The facility's director of nursing, Donna Dohoney, RN, came out of retirement just to work in the community and help implement the household model.

“It's such a unique concept. This is how long-term care needs to be,” she says.

To honor the community's French influence (Guerin Woods is named after the French Saint Mother Theodore Guerin), the CNAs are called “compatissants.” In addition to typical CNA duties, they do light housework and prepare meals for residents.

Each villa is 7,200 square feet, and like other household model facilities, the kitchen is at the center of each. Instead of a nurse's station, each villa has an office where nurses and CNAs can do their charting.

Residents can bring their own furniture, and each has a private room. However, the bedrooms are adaptable for couples.

Armstrong was careful to select building materials that were durable, easy to clean and did not look institutional. And part of that is the selection of a home-like color scheme.

“Sister Barbara had a lot of input. She is very sensitive to the special needs of the elderly so we stayed away from blues, which are hard for seniors to see,” Armstrong says.

It is touches like this that make the Villas at Guerin Woods “a very happy place,” Zeller says.

Lessons learned

--Be sure to hire nurses and CNAs who are prepared to multitask.

--It's OK for each household to look very similar to each other, but minor color tweaks add individuality.

--Plan to adapt at least a few private rooms for couples who are admitted to the facility.