Willowdale focuses on boosting function
By Mark Sherry
Mark Sherry photo
Bernice Suttner shares a laugh with Courtney Hammen, COTA, while undergoing some therapy at Progressive Step rehabilitation clinic, which is connected by a hallway to Willowdale Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

There was a time when nursing homes were exclusively occupied by people who were going to spend the remainder of their lives there, however long that might be.

Take a closer look at Willowdale Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in New Holstein and it quickly becomes clear that is hardly the case anymore.

In fact, the key to Willowdale these days lies in the second half of its name. Nursing is still crucial, of course, and Willowdale has some of the best around—but a lot of the focus today is on rehabilitation.

“Even if you’re coming here and this is going to be your home, our goal is to keep you at your highest functional level,” said Melissa Voelker of Progressive Step, the rehabilitation center connected via a short hallway to Willowdale.

Voelker said there are plenty of good outlets for rehabilitation services in the area, but the Willowdale/Progressive Step combination offers some advantages others do not.

“Some of the things that differentiate us is we are truly an in-house rehabilitation company,” she said. “This is the only building we work at.” Extendicare is the corporate owner of both Willowdale and Progressive Step. Because the same rehabilitation center has been serving Willowdale residents for so many years now, there is better continuity of care. Voelker has been with Progressive Step since it was built, and she said one of its therapists has over 20 years of experience in the profession.

See every resident twice per day

With the convenience of having the rehabilitation staff in-house, Voelker said their goal is to see every resident at Willowdale at least twice per day. Occupational and physical therapists provide split sessions to accomplish that goal. “Not everyone loves that, but that’s our philosophy—so they (the residents) can be moving throughout the day so they can return home or, if they’re staying here, that they can still do as much for themselves as they can.”

While some nursing homes provide space for contracted therapists to work, Voelker said it is unusual to have a skilled nursing facility with a dedicated, in-house therapy department such as Progressive Step.

“We have quite a few specialties,” Voelker added, pointing out that Progressive Step also provides therapy services for Calumet County Home Health Care. Therapists at Progressive Step are certified to treat swelling and to use massage techniques. They also are trained to treat urinary incontinence.

The therapists, nurses and aides at Willowdale/Progressive Step also are not hesitant to use some alternative methods of providing assistance to long-term and short-term residents and outpatients. One therapist is trained in craniosacral therapy (CST), or cranial-sacral therapy, in which light touches are applied to a patient’s skull, face, spine or pelvis.

According to Willowdale Referral Manager Wendy Jacobs, the facility also started using aromatherapy last Novem-

ber for its purported ability to alter or improve a person’s mind, mood, cognitive function or health.
In-service training provided

Local aromatherapy expert Barbara Fett provided some in-service training for Willowdale employees. Zach Ziesemer, administrator of Willowdale, said there already have been some positive reports on the possible effects of the scents. He said a person who was a previous resident of Willowdale tried using the essential oils of aromatherapy and saw diminished negative behaviors which had been an ongoing issue. “The husband commented, ‘Can we have more of that stuff?,’” Ziesemer said.

Another resident asked for some of the “good smelling stuff.”

Willowdale is putting essential oils to use in a variety of ways, Ziesemer said. The scents can be distributed via small misting bottles; by putting oils on cotton balls which are then taped to residents’ clothing; or by massaging onto the skin.

Ziesemer said Willowdale employee Pam Koehler was the initial and strong proponent of trying aromatherapy. He added that he has been such a fan that he has started using essential oils at home.

Fett said benefits include easing pain, reducing anxiety and, again, improving perceived negative behaviors. She said she has seen other benefits as well, such as a 50 percent reduction in the need for medications for anxiety, and reducing symptoms of nausea in people.

Fett said two oils which will be commonly used at Willowdale are lavender and a blend called Peace & Calming.

Music & Memory

Jacobs said an even newer program at Willowdale is Music & Memory. The program is a therapy used with individual professionals or an entire team of caregivers, from aides to music therapists and nurses, along with family members to create a personalized music program for each person who chooses to participate. A grant awarded to Willowdale has allowed for the purchase of multiple iPods which will be used in the program.

Music & Memory works because the brain ties music to memory. Music can help the listener reconnect, regain social skills and live more fully. It can provide pleasure to people with advanced dementia, and music can offer an enjoyable activity for people in dialysis, on vent or bed-bound. It has been known to increase cooperation and attention and to reduce resistance to care, which also helps boost staff morale. Music also can reduce agitation, enhance engagement, foster a calmer social environment, and provide a tool for reducing reliance on anti-psychotic medications.

Progressive Step also provides occupational and speech therapies to outpatients who are able to access the facility from an entrance separate from the nursing home. A full range of physical therapies also are available to outpatients. While Willowdale/Progressive Step are experts in geriatrics, they have assisted patients as young as 4 years old and every age in between—people who have been injured at work, in car accidents, playing sports, or who suffer from chronic conditions.

Willowdale/Progressive Step accepts most insurance plans. To find out more about insurance plans accepted or the facilities in general, call 898-5706. Voelker reminds people that they have the right to choose where they get their therapy services. A person might have been treated for an injury at a hospital in Sheboygan, Fond du Lac or elsewhere, but if rehabilitation would be more convenient in New Holstein, they should let their doctor know that.

And for those patients who have to stay for a few days or longer at Willowdale, Jacobs said they will be pleased to know that the facility has obtained an unheard of pain rating of 0 percent during the last quarter. “What it means is we’re managing pain well,” Voelker said. “It’s a real focus for us here.”

The staff at Willowdale also focuses on preventing infections, another aspect which is measured and on which Willowdale scores well.

The facility also has two wound care certified nurses on staff. The staff is experienced, friendly, and promotes a family atmosphere. “We grew up here,” said Voelker, who along with Jacobs are New Holstein natives and were classmates at New Holstein High School. “I feel like my reputation is on the line.”

Many of the staff members at Willowdale are involved in other activities in New Holstein, Kiel and other local communities—including Jacobs being the current president of the New Holstein Area Chamber of Commerce—and they also put a strong emphasis on educating and assisting the general public through workshops, classes, and other educational sessions. Willowdale even continues to offer its longtime tradition of Friday afternoon happy hours.

Willowdale Nursing and Rehabilitation Center clearly is not what people remember nursing homes being 20 or 30 years ago. They invite everyone to stop by to see that for themselves.