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County breaks ground on new facility for elderly

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Catherine W. Idzerda
September 30, 2011
— The best things in life don't have price tags.

The aroma of chocolate chip cookies baking.


Butter melting on a warm roll.


A yard full of flowers and vegetables to enjoy, a hot bath, a space to get away from everybody, a space to share with family and friends, a bay window for books—the list could go on and on.


On Thursday, Rock County broke ground on a new $31 million nursing home to replace Rock Haven, its existing facility. The new building will be ready for residents in about a year.


"The character of a community is determined by the way it responds to its citizens," Rock County Board Chairman Russ Podzilni told the crowd of dignitaries, staff and residents.


The new nursing home has been more than a decade in the works. That it would ever be built was uncertain.


However, a few years ago, the state passed a requirement that all nursing homes have complete sprinkler systems.


"When they said that the home would have to be sprinklered by 2013, a lot of people said, ‘Now would be the time to get out of the nursing home business,'" Podzilni said.


But the county is required to provide care for its residents with severe developmental disabilities, chronic mental illness or difficult-to-manage behaviors, explained County Administrator Craig Knutson.


Those residents are also served at Rock Haven, as are those with complex and long-term medical needs.


The cost would have been $3.5 million a year, and those costs would have increased annually.


The new building will be close by—just south of Rock Haven—but much different.


The single-floor design will feature four "neighborhoods," each with 16 "households," explained Sherry Gunderson, Rock Haven administrator.


Each of the neighborhoods will have access to a central courtyard filled with plants. In addition, each area will have a small kitchen, a three-season porch, a common area and dinning room.


Beulah Rudolph has lived at Rock Haven for five years.


"I've enjoyed every day of it," she said. "The nurses here are the best in Rock County, and the aides know what you want before you even ask."


Still, when asked if she was excited about moving, Rudolph said, "Ab-so-tively!"


Her new room will be 16-feet-by-22-feet.


"There's going to be a bay window with three panes," Rudolph said. "And I heard we're going to have heat and cool controls."


That will be a big change: Rock Haven has never had central air conditioning. Residents have made do with window air conditioners in their rooms.


Gunderson said many of the residents were delighted with the prospect of having their own rooms.


"I was hoping to have my husband in the same household, but he died in August," Rudolph said. "We were married for 64 years."


The rooms will have curbless shower stalls, but the spa area of the nursing home also will have a whirlpool bath.


In addition, the new building will let residents experience life's simple—but important—pleasures.


"The cook could make rolls in the main kitchen and they could be finished off in the residential kitchens," Gunderson said. "Or we could have cookies baking while residents are eating dinner."


Food will be served in steam wells, giving residents the chance to savor the smell of supper just as they did in their own homes.


A safe place to garden and walk in good weather, a three-season room to enjoy the crisp days of fall, a kitchen for a late-night cup of soup and a common area to celebrate birthdays and holidays—all those things will make the new Rock Haven more like residents' former homes.



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