Growing their own vegetables and flowers is a common practice for many of Colorado’s West Slope residents, and it’s no different for the elders at the Colorado State Veterans Home at Rifle. Thanks to the “Stake Your Claim” gardening program started this year, some 30 nursing home residents and more than 15 staff teamed up to grow everything from petunias and marigolds to carrots, beets, tomatoes, parsley and cilantro.

    Residents and staff planted about 15 flowerboxes this year, including two located in a secure outdoor area for memory care residents. It’s the kind of meaningful activity that activity coordinator Deana Jacoby encourages.

    “Residents can develop relationships with staff outside of care-giving, and they get to know each other on a personal basis,” she said.

    Creating the gardening program is just one way the Rifle veterans home is working to change the “culture” of long-term care. 

    “Culture change involves de-institutionalizing nursing homes to truly become ‘home’,” explained Evy Cugelman, with long-term care consulting firm Pinon Management. “It includes empowering staff, forming staff teams on residents’ neighborhoods, getting staff and residents involved in decision-making and encouraging staff to develop relationships with residents, which is the key to happier staff and happier elders.”

    Through these and other changes that have been made at the Rifle veterans home, residents now are encouraged to participate in committees dealing with their menu, bathing areas, ice cream parlor, library and a planned chapel. Also, recently remodeled bathing areas provide residents a more soothing, spa-like experience with music and towel warmers. In addition, “Betty’s Place” – named for 84-year-old nursing assistant Betty Bendetti – now offers a gathering place where residents, staff and visitors enjoy popcorn, ice cream and other goodies.

    The Rifle veteran’s home is one of five Colorado State and Veterans Nursing Homes that have launched new programs aimed at making their facilities less like institutions and more like “home.”

    Leading the way in culture change among the five state-run nursing homes is the Bruce McCandless Veterans Home in Florence. The McCandless home is the only state veterans home in the United States and one of only 15 long-term care facilities in Colorado to be accepted into the Eden Alternative Registry. By practicing Eden principles, the McCandless team has created resident-guided programs and a neighborhood advocate program in which staff volunteer as communication liaisons and culture change leaders. In addition, resident and staff committees make decisions on pet welfare, spa bathing, warm welcome, end of life and “nurturing dining,” which offers more choices of food and mealtimes.

    At the State Veterans Home at Fitzsimons, residents’ preferences for bathing, rising, bedtimes and other personal decisions are honored and respected. The staff has initiated resident activities focused on poetry, gardening, reading and crocheting. Family members are encouraged to bring family pets for visits, and residents now enjoy the companionship of their resident feline, “General.”

     The State Veterans Center at Homelake, near Monte Vista, provides residents with an array of food choices and offers meals and snacks at residents’ own preferred times. Residents also can participate in a horticultural program, set their own daily schedules and get involved in decisions about group activities.

    The Trinidad State Nursing Home has opened a “Country Perk” coffee house available to residents 24/7. The home has created resident neighborhoods and raises funds to repaint and decorate residents’ rooms in the colors and styles of their choice. In addition, staff members and residents are encouraged to consider each other members of an extended family.

    “Each of the State and Veterans Nursing Homes is making progress in culture change,” Cugelman said. “The key is to stay on the journey.”

    Colorado’s State and Veterans Nursing Homes are operated as self-funded enterprises by the Department of Human Services. The Department oversees 64 county departments of social/human services and other services including the state’s public mental health system, and the  developmental disabilities system and services for the aging.