The Kern Valley Health District (KVHD) operates a skilled nursing facility in Mt. Mesa that provides round-the-clock care for elderly patients with just about any condition, from strokes to cancer to dementia. They also provide respite care for loved ones on a short-term basis if the family needs assistance.
Although care is provided in a hospital-like setting, Activities Director Laura Springer works hard to keep the environment anything but grim. The group in the activities department introduces a variety of intellectual games, movies, bingo and outdoor games along with outings away from the facility to include picnics, shopping, concerts in the park and viewing Christmas lights around the holidays.
While a team of doctors, nurses and certified nursing assistants tend to the residents’ medical needs, Springer does her part to lift the spirits and boost the souls of the residents. Most of them have been placed in the facility after the demands of their conditions exceed what live-in caregivers or family members can provide.
Sometimes the decision to place mom or dad (or another elderly relative) into a care facility is fraught with guilt and anxiety. Springer counsels families to avoid that emotional trap.
“I tell them not to feel guilty or bad because there does come a time when you can’t bathe them or change them,” she said. “I tell them you’re doing the right thing for them and you. Here, they have 24/7 care.”
Besides intensive medical care when patients need it, the KVHD skilled nursing facility offers a high degree of interaction with patients. The activities Springer coordinates include cornhole and bowling, which can be done from a resident’s wheelchair. Pool noodles can be used to bat balloons, but there are more cerebral offerings, such as hangman or crossword puzzles. In addition, special events are planned for major holidays and outings to area venues.
Springer realized she had a special rapport with seniors some years ago during a previous job in the dental field.
“The company I worked for then used to give me all the elderly patients,” she said. “When I was hired for this job, that part came naturally.”
In a 24/7 care environment, residents form close bonds with the entire caregiving team, including everyone from the doctors and nurses to the nutritionists and housekeeping staff. This unit is a home-like environment.
“They tell us they love us all the time,” Springer said about the residents. “When I’m going to be off for a few days, they’re like, ‘My lord, I’ll miss you.’ It really is like a huge family.”
Frequent travel for visits might be challenging if a patient’s family lives in a distant locale. To compensate, caregivers at KVHD’s skilled nursing facility have found a way to bridge that gap via technology.
Video chat calls via stand-mounted iPads transported from room to room are initiated daily at 4 p.m. to allow real-time contact between residents and their loved ones. Residents who are bedbound, as well as their more mobile counterparts, use this service.
“It’s amazing,” Springer said. “Our residents look forward to those video chats.”