When Alan Nary would drive his late wife to volunteer at nursing homes years ago, he wouldn’t go inside.
“I couldn’t stand to see the way the people were living,” said Nary, a retired Navy Master Chief Petty Officer and U.S. Customs Agent. “She’d go in and I’d wait in the car. I vowed then I’d never live in a nursing home.”
And Nary will tell you, he still doesn’t.
“This isn’t a nursing home,” said Nary, now 86, from his wheelchair at Heron Cove at Sanders in Gloucester, Va. “This is home.”
Heron Cove at Sanders is licensed by the Commonwealth of Virginia to provide older adults with a nursing home level of care. Sanders Retirement Community, which also features independent living cottages and assisted living apartments, is part of Riverside Health System’s three continuing care retirement communities.
But walk inside either of the two houses that make up Heron Cove and you’ll think you’re in someone’s house – you have to ring a doorbell to get inside where you walk into a fireplace filled family room and the smells of home cooking from the open kitchen.
You can smell, feel and see that Heron Cove has changed the way older adults are cared for in Virginia. It’s the first residence of its kind for older adults in the state – a part of the culture change known as the “Household Model” that deinstitutionalizes the nursing homes Nary remembers taking his wife to visit.
Gone are the regimented days of nursing home living. At Heron Cove, individual resident routines are known and respected. Residents arise when they choose, eat when they choose and what they choose, and have the autonomy to be the driver of their daily lives.
“This place literally brings my blood pressure down,” Nary said with a smile, recalling a recent day where he was in the hospital for one of his routine blood transfusions and nurses witnessed his blood pressure rise.
“I just told them I wanted to go home,” Nary said, sweeping his arms across a room a Heron Cove. “I wanted to come here. And when I got back here, and the nurses checked my blood pressure again, it had gone back down.”
Heron Cove at Sanders opened in December on Heron Cove Way off of Gloucester Courthouse’s Main Street.
The two houses that make up the Heron Cove community replaced Sanders Retirement Community’s 50-year-old nursing home and can accommodate up to 20 residents each.
Both houses in Heron Cove are designed like traditional homes and feature private bedrooms and bathrooms and open dining and living areas. At the heart of each home sits a family-style kitchen that’s resident friendly and meant to bring every aspect of home life to the forefront of daily living.
“We stopped using the words ‘nursing home’ and we started using the words ‘my house,’” F. Michael Martin, Riverside Health System’s Senior Vice President of the Lifelong Health Division, said. “We are taking people who don’t live normal lives because it’s so regimented and giving them their life back.”
At some point, caring for older adults got caught up in regulations and efficiencies, Martin said.
“We began treating a problem or a disease instead of treating the person,” Martin said. “This is about giving normalcy and control back to the residents and their families. This is a way to honor our mothers and fathers.”
The long-term goal of Riverside’s Lifelong Health Division is to bring this model to every nursing facility. Aspects of the model are already getting implemented in several other Riverside communities.
Ask Nary, though, and you’ll hear that it’s more than just the design of the place that makes it so special.
“You see that there on the wall,” Nary asked, pointing to a sticker that simply says U.S. Navy Retired. “One of the nurses brought that to me one day. She said she saw it and thought of me. The people is what makes this place so special. Every single person here is friendly and has an incredible attitude.”
“I’ve lived an incredible, full life,” Nary added.
Just look around his room and you can see that. A Navy veteran baseball cap by his window. A shadow box of his Navy medals and insignia on his dresser. A photo of the largest drug bust his was involved in while working as a U.S. Customs Agent.
“This place is special. I am happy to be here. I’m happy to be home.”
Learn more about Heron Cove at Sanders at sandersliving.com.