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Compassionate Cottage expands living options for older adults

Kelly Nelson, a nurse, from left, Nancy Patock, housing manager, and Bev Werder, founder of Compassionate Cottage, have a goal of providing person-centered assisted living for older adults at the cottage. The house has five suites, with four additional suites that are under construction and will be completed soon. Tribune photo by Anne Polta

When she lived on her own in New London, Phyllis “Clem” Tone, 83, was often alone and felt she depended on her adult children “more than I wanted to.” Her new suite at Compassionate Cottage has a large window overlooking the front lawn and plenty of room for her rosemaling, cherished wood sculptures made by her late husband, family pictures and cozy furniture. Three months after moving in, she says she feels more secure. “That was the nicest thing about being here — I know I’m safe. Everybody is so nice here.

If there’s anything you need, they’re right there to help.”

Not quite independent living but not skilled nursing care either, Compassionate Cottage provides assisted living on a scale that’s small, home-like and personal.

When it comes to services for aging adults, one size no longer fits all, said Bev Werder, founder of Compassionate Cottage.

“This is a model of assisted living that fills a gap between some assisted living and the nursing home,” she said of the cottage. “This is unique.” A growing population of older adults and a generation of baby boomers in search of more and better options are rewriting the script for how we live as we age.

Set in a quiet neighborhood off Lakeland Drive, Compassionate Cottage exemplifies the increasing diversity in services for this demographic.

When Werder founded Compassionate Care 12 years ago, her goal was to provide cooking, housekeeping, companionship services and more for older adults living in their own homes. For many, it’s a needed service that helps them remain at home.

Still, Werder saw a need for more. Some of her clients were independent but lonely. Some required more around-the-clock care than they could receive at home.

“I saw the need when people were having to leave their homes,” she said. “You always think that home is the best and it often can be, but people don’t always know what they’re missing.”

Compassionate Cottage opened in 2007 with five suites. Construction of four additional suites is now nearing completion and Werder has added a partner, Nancy Patock, to manage the house.

On a recent sunny morning, some residents were gathered around the kitchen table decorating cookies. Someone else was in her room having a manicure.

Older adults who might be overwhelmed by a larger setting often fare better in the smaller setting of Compassionate Cottage, Patock said. “It really is their home. It’s their family.”

A 24-hour staff helps with cooking, cleaning and laundry. Registered nurse Kelly Nelson oversees each resident’s health and is on call around the clock.

“I try to look at the whole person and what they need,” she said. “I talk to their doctors on a regular basis. We can manage their blood pressure, vital signs and things like that. Sometimes somebody just needs someone to talk to.”

Many older adults are at risk of isolation, which can lead to physical and mental decline, Patock said. “Socialization is almost as important as physical activity. So is nutrition. People eat better when they’re with others. … We’re bringing the quality of life to them. That is my goal — to make sure they’re really having fun.”

After his mother moved into Compassionate Cottage in December, Terry Tone saw her perk up.

“It’s been a godsend for us,” he said. “The social interaction has been great.”

The family looked at other options but liked Compassionate Cottage the best, he said. “We were impressed by how it was more like a home. It’s less institutional.”

His mother can still be independent but is no longer alone, he said. “Just knowing there’s someone there is huge.”

Venturing into a slightly less traditional model of assisted living was a bit of a business risk, Werder admitted. “I wasn’t sure if we’d have residents. I wasn’t sure we’d be able to attract the cream of the staff.”

Families responded, however, and there has consistently been a waiting list of people who want to move in, she said.

“There are several models out there. This model would not work for everyone,” she said. “We didn’t want it to be all about numbers. It’s more about relationships. I feel like we’re really blessed to have so many options. This is just one of them.”

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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