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 ProStep, 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/ProStep 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 ProStep. 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 ProStep since the center 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 inhouse, Voelker said very often residents at Willowdale are seen twice per day. Occupational and physical therapists provide split sessions based on the patients’ individualized goals. “Our goal is to keep residents 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,” she said.

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 ProStep.

“We have quite a few specialties,” Voelker added, pointing out that ProStep also provides therapy services for Calumet County Home Health Care. Therapists at ProStep 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/ProStep 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 November 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 significant 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. This program incorporates 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

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