By B.C. Manion
Take a walk around the Baldomero Lopez State Veterans’ Nursing Home in Land O’ Lakes and you’ll see a place that defies the stereotypical look and feel of a nursing home.
This is a place with large common areas, where residents can gather to watch big screen TVs. There’s a soothing aquarium in one spot and a resident cat that roams the place, at will, before lazily settling in to a nice, comfy chair.
There’s a patio, where people can rest to look at pretty trees or enjoy the beauty of a hibiscus with its giant, orange blooms.
On one wall, near the entrance, there’s a tribute to the veteran for whom the place is named.
On walls throughout the 120-bed facility there are displays of military uniforms, a framed flag, models of military airplanes and other mementos that pay homage to the men and women who live here and who have devoted a portion of their lives to serving their country.
On one prominent wall there’s a collection of some of the accolades the facility has garnered since opening its doors in 1999.
Recently, the nursing home added to its list of distinctions.
Mike Prendergast, executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, dropped by the facility on Oct. 13 to present the 2011-2012 Excellence in Action Award to the center’s administrator and staff.
The award goes to nursing homes throughout the country that achieve the highest levels of customer satisfaction through surveys administered by My InnerView, an independent research firm. Award recipients score in the top 10 percent of My InnerView’s database, the largest of its kind.
The veterans’ home, which dedicates nearly half of its beds to residents with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, is a three-time recipient of the honor. It won previously in 2008 and 2009.
In essence, the survey is a measure of how well the facilities perform, based on whether survey respondents would recommend the facility to family or friends, said Rebecca Yackel, administrator for the Baldermo Lopez center.
She attributes the center’s success to the staff’s commitment to maintain a positive attitude, at every level throughout the facility.
“We’re in the type of work where people are always asking for something,” Yackel said. “That’s the way it is, in many jobs. That can sometimes be a challenge.”
But if caregivers respond in a positive fashion, the response from the residents and their families tends to be positive, too, she said.
Staff members are trained to respond to individual residents – whether or not they are assigned to work with that particular person, Yackel said.
“We’re here to help them,” she said. She said when someone approaches a staff member, the response is: “Let’s see what you need.”
If that staff member can’t help, his or her job is to find someone else who can address the situation.
“If you take care of their needs and their issues early on, it’s rare that they become a major grievance,” said Yackel, who was the center’s director of nursing when it opened its doors and was promoted to become its leader in 2003.
The center serves veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. It doesn’t have any veterans who served in Afghanistan or Iraq.
“Our average age is 83,” Yackel said. “Our average stay is 3 1/2 to 4 years. This is truly an old soldiers’ home. They come here and live to the end of their lives.”
Yackel said the center has the good fortune of having a large number of staff members who have been there since Day 1.
As a result, there’s a high level of shared commitment and teamwork, she said.
The nursing home’s calendar is chock full of events. There are special music programs, parties, bingo games, trivia contests, arts and crafts and other kinds of activities.
There’s a well-stocked library and a devotional room. Yackel said there are barbecues twice a month where people bring in all of the food.
The center also enjoys a great relationship with many area organizations, she added.
“We have wonderful community support from the veterans groups and from other types of groups, like the Elks – you name it,” she said.
“We really wouldn’t have such a wonderful variety of things going on without the community involvement,” she said. “It’s just marvelous.”
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