Columbus, Ohio USA
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Finding Friends at
Heartland Victorian Village

By Jeff Bell
August 2000 Issue

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Dorothy Benjamin (seated) with staff members
Denise Dunn and Todd Lusch

There is an air of dignity about Dorothy Benjamin as she talks about the last four years she has spent as a resident at Heartland Victorian Village Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Although confined to a wheelchair, Dorothy, in a soft, soothing voice, says she tries to remain upbeat about this stage of her life. "The care here is fine," she says. "I enjoy going to the activity room and doing all the activities. I really enjoy bingo, and I've made friends with everybody."

A few minutes later, Dorothy, 66, sits with several of her friends at a table in the nursing home's dining room, awaiting a lunchtime meal. They chat and kid her about having had her photo taken for this story. There is also talk about a riverboat cruise that Dorothy and 14 other residents made July 20. It included a chartered bus trip to Cincinnati, where they and 14 staff members boarded a sternwheeler operated by B&B Riverboat.

The day included a luncheon buffet, bingo and a two-and-a-half hour cruise along the Ohio River. The trip was part of Heartland Victorian Village's "Heart's Desire" program. It helps long-term care residents fulfill their greatest wish, similar to programs that grant wishes to terminally ill children. Past Heart's Desire trips have included everything from going to Cooper Stadium for a Columbus Clippers baseball game to a limousine ride to a Bob Evans restaurant, the dining place of choice for a Heart's Desire beneficiary. "Just because they are [in a nursing home] doesn't mean they are not able to do things," says Todd Lusch, director of admissions and marketing at Heartland-Victorian Village. "Our goal is to give them the best quality of life while they're here. You don't treat someone as an infant just because they can't stay in their home any longer."

It's all about treating residents with respect, adds Denise Dunn, activities director at the center. "Number one, you have to remember everyone is a person and try to meet their needs and wants," she says. "Treating everyone as an individual is the most important thing."

Located at 920 Thurber Drive West in 1974, Heartland Victorian Village has been owned and operated by Health Care & Retirement Corp. (HCR) since the mid-1980s. The Toledo-based company, now called HCR-Manor Care after a merger, is one of the country's largest health-care businesses with 62,000 beds in more than 400 centers nationwide.

At Heartland Victorian Village, HCR-Manor Care has a 148-bed facility that employs 150 people. It offers long-term care, plus a 30-bed, sub-acute unit for those in transition from a hospital to home care or an assisted living community. The center also provides speech, occupational and physical therapies.

"A lot of our residents are not your typical nursing-home patients," Lusch points out, noting Heartland Victorian Village's resident mix includes persons with mental disabilities, those who are HIV-positive and those with chronic illnesses linked to homelessness.

The average age of residents is around 60, which is younger than that of a typical nursing home. About 30 percent of those entering the center recover enough to return home or to some sort of assisted-living or "board-and-care" facility.

Lusch says Heartland Victorian Village operates as a "mini-hospital," providing a broad range of services to patients needing around-the-clock, skilled nursing care. Those services include tracheotomy, respiratory, intravenous and ostomy care, peritoneal dialysis and whirlpool therapy.

There is also hospice care for the terminally ill and short-term respite services for those providing in-home care to a family member or friend. The respite can be as long as a few weeks or as short as a weekend, according to Rich Hudson, admissions coordinator at the center.

"It gives the family an opportunity to regroup and have some relief from the stress of caring for a loved one," he says.

Heartland Victorian Village also has staff members who help residents and their families sort through the complex financial issues that go with a stay in a nursing home. Part of their job, explains Hudson, is to clear up misconceptions about who pays for such care.

For example, Hudson says many people are not aware that Medicare will pay for only 100 days of nursing-home care a year. The rest must be covered by private funds, long-term care insurance or Medicaid. The average nursing home charges about $4,000 a month per patient. "HCR has taken the stance that we will not deny admission to patients if we will not receive a high reimbursement rate for them," he says. "We provide the level of care that's needed even if the reimbursement is not there. Where there is a will, there is a way." Because of its diverse mix of patients, the staff at Heartland Victorian Village tries to keep its residents connected to whatever community they were part of prior to admission. That includes church and ethnic organizations or gay and lesbian groups. Dunn says the staff also works hard to get everyone involved in some sort of activity even if that means taking the activity to the bed-ridden in their rooms.

For more ambulatory residents, there is a morning exercise program, card games, bingo, cookouts and other activities. There is a Friday happy hour each week, with entertainment by local musicians, including Okey Clark (country and western), Mike Rose (rock'n'roll and gospel) and Marsha Peterson (sing-a-longs). There also are monthly excursions to places such as the Columbus Zoo and Ohio State Fair or Christmas lights tour.

The center has two outdoor garden areas where residents can enjoy nature and socialize. Inside are the activities room, two resident lounges, a beauty salon and the dining room. And the food isn't bad either, adds Dorothy Benjamin. After working as a cook at the old state hospital on the Hilltop for 20 years (she was famous for her pies), Dorothy likes the idea of someone else doing the cooking these days.

Jeff Bell is a freelance writer who lives in Bexley