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Sunnyside rehab site gets busy

It used to be that when an elderly person entered a nursing home, it meant they would spend the remainder of their lives as residents there.

But many area nursing homes are finding that an increasing percentage of their clientele are in need of short-term, rehabilitative stays only. When these clients have recovered from the injury, illness, major surgery, stroke or heart attack that required professional nursing care and/or rehabilitation, they go back home.

"We're finding in (nursing home care) that it's not the same type of system that existed 10 years ago," said Ron Donacik, administrator of Sunnyside Care Center in rural Lake Park. "A large population of our residents are short term, and are looking to go back home once they complete rehabilitation."

To reflect that changing focus, Sunnyside is in the process of expanding its therapy department to include more outpatient as well as in-patient care.

A full-time physical therapist was added in October, to work alongside the department's full-time occupational therapist, Lake Park native Jen Manning. Diane Cashman, a seven-year resident of the Lake Park area, has 11 years of experience as a physical therapist.

With two full-time therapists now on staff at Sunnyside, "We're able to provide a higher level of service," Manning noted.

"Now that I'm here full time, I can see patients consistently, every day," Cashman added. "It's more productive."

"And when they need it, we can see them twice a day," said Manning.

But even with both of them working full-time, Manning and Cashman are quickly discovering that there are only a certain number of hours in a day. More staff has become a necessity.

"We're looking to bring in another physical therapy assistant to assist with the expanding workload," Donacik said.

The new therapy room that was included as part of Sunnyside's $1.3 million makeover, completed in January 2005, has already become too small to handle that expanding clientele.

Sometime in the next few weeks, the wall separating the therapy room from the old activity room will be torn down, and the activity room will be relocated to the former family room next door.

"It can't come soon enough," Manning said. "With Diane and myself here full time now, and all the new outpatients, it's tough (finding room to work)... We're excited about this (expansion)."

"We have seven outpatients, and between the two of us, we'll see about 20 inpatients this month," added Cashman.

With the Minnesota Department of Health's written approval in hand, the expansion could start as early as next week, Manning said.

And that's not the end of the changes in the therapy department, according to Donacik. Many of Sunnyside's nursing assistants have also been trained in restorative nursing, which means they do some therapeutic work themselves.

"We have a restorative nursing program that has to be monitored by our therapy staff, but the nurses will do (the therapy)," Donacik said.

And part of Manning's work also involves making a home visit in anticipation of the patient returning home, for an independent living evaluation.

"An evaluation will determine the level of (care) services needed, and whether the person can live at home on their own," she said.

Manning and Cashman are also hoping to add some new cardiovascular equipment such as an exercise bike or a treadmill, which right now would not fit into the existing therapy room.

"We have all the (equipment) basics," Manning said. "But we can't purchase any more until we get some more space."

The expansion of the physical therapy department is just the latest phase in the ongoing changes at Sunnyside, which completed a building addition and renovation project shortly before Donacik's arrival as the new administrator, in April 2005.

The addition, located at the front of the facility, included a completely new front entrance and lobby, fireplace room, administrative offices, chapel and family resident lounge.

A new indoor/outdoor patio was also added at the back of the facility, offering a scenic view of adjacent Boyer Lake.

And the 57-bed nursing home itself underwent a complete facelift.

"All the (resident) rooms have been renovated and updated," Donacik said. The number of private rooms was also expanded, from three to nine.

"That's the direction of all (nursing home) facilities right now -- to create more privacy," he continued.

A computer lounge was added, to enable residents to make use of e-mail, Internet and desktop publishing services.

Basically, the facility has been divided into two main care areas: A locked, secured section known as the Cormorant Bay wing, which is used for patients with dementia and Alzheimer's-related conditions, and the Boyer Bay wing, which is both for long-term and short-term, rehabilitative care patients. Each wing has separate dining and lounge areas.

And then, of course, there's Sally, who is Sunnyside's only permanent four-legged resident. The mixed breed pup is a favorite with both residents and staff, and is given a pretty free rein in wandering the hallways.

"She helps with some of the therapy patients," Manning said, noting that the pup has been known to generate a response from some residents when nothing else would.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454