Personalized Care Makes Otterbein Feel Like Home

Otterbein SeniorLife elders Helen Anson and Marilyn Ford chat in Helen’s suite. MIRROR PHOTO BY KAREN GERHARDINGER

BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Smaller is better. That could be the slogan for Otterbein Senior-Life, which last month celebrated the addition of two suites onto each of the homes of its Monclova and Perrysburg skilled nursing neighborhoods.

“We can now serve 12 elders in each of our five houses,” said regional marketing director Molly Good, as she toured one of the Monclova Township homes following a ribbon-cutting ceremony last month.

Otterbein SeniorLife Skilled Nursing Neighbor-hoods are intentionally small in order to focus on the needs of each elder, she explained. Founded a century ago by the United Methodist Church, Otter-bein is a nonprofit organization that for the past 17 years has been part of the Green House Project.

“The Green House Project is centered around our elders. They get to choose when they go to bed and get up, how they want their eggs cooked and whether they want to eat in their suite or with the others,” Good said, motioning to a table where a small group of residents were eating lunch around a table near the open kitchen.

That means no set bedtimes or mealtimes, a flexible menu, more elder involvement in activities and meal planning, and more interaction between the assistants and elders in each home. As a result, the elders are happier and the employees who get to develop those one-on-one relationships tend to remain on the job longer, according to the Green House Project.

In December, a team from the Canadian Broadcasting Company came to the Monclova Township community to interview elders, assistants and guide Tammy Allison – whose role is akin to a nursing home administrator – for a segment looking into the Green House Project. 

“Canada is looking to us as a model for elder care,” Good said. With Baby Boomers aging and not enough long-term care facilities, this model is emerging as one that makes sense.

“You can do long-term care differently and you can do it better, and we feel like we’re doing that,” said Allison in her interview with the CBC. 

Elders Helen Anson and Marilyn Ford praise the team of elder assistants, the activities director and Allison for making Otterbein feel like home.

“It’s not home, but it’s the closest thing to home,” said Helen, who was living with her daughter until falling while doing laundry. After moving into one of the Otterbein homes, she met Marilyn. Both have formed friendships and gone on adventures, such as a picnic at Side Cut Metropark, visits to the grocery store and dining out. The women also talk about Bible study and Bible trivia, bingo and monthly auctions in which they use play money to bid on small items.

“It’s not chintzy stuff – it’s nice things,” Marilyn said of the items that are auctioned off each month.

Mealtime is important at Otterbein, and residents are able to order groceries, choose a menu and watch as the elder assistants and dietary aide prepare the food – sometimes getting help from the elders. Elder assistant Deanna Webb makes the best macaroni and cheese with real sharp cheese, Helen and Marilyn agreed.

Because of the flexibility of choices, each home is known for its unique interests – such as the games played, entertainment or special food requests.

“That’s the Seafood House,” Allison said, pointing across the lane to another one of the homes.

While the addition of 10 more people might not seem like a big deal when compared to larger, for-profit communities, to Otterbein SeniorLife residents, it’s one more opportunity to welcome another friend to the neighborhood.

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