For decades, Life Care Center of Waynesville has filled a special need in the local community, and the local community has responded by filling a special need within the facility.
The Waynesville branch of Life Care Center is the only long-term nursing care facility in Waynesville. At any given time, approximately 80 residents call the center home. Some of the residents live at the center for years, others are there for a matter of weeks or months as they rehabilitate from an injury or illness.
"It provides our community a place where their loved ones can be cared for," Norma Jean McQueen, a certified nursing assistant who has worked at the center for four years, said. "I love it here."
The facility where Life Care Center of Waynesville is housed opened in the early 1980s.
"It wasn't a Life Care home then, it was a Beverly Home and then Life Care came in and bought it out," Diana Bivens, social services director, said. Bivens said the Waynesville facility has evolved, progressed, and become an integral part of the community over the years.
"We watch our staff work really hard to achieve the best possible care that we can," she said.
Those staff members include Certified Nursing Assistants Norma Jean McQueen, who has worked in the facility for four years, and Crystal Singleton, who has worked at the center for 13 years.
"We assist the residents," McQueen explained. "We're the first ones they see in the morning and we're the last ones they see at night. We play and interact with the residents. We talk to them. They tell us their stories, how they grew up. We just talk to them like they're our family."
Just like family
The theme of a family is important to the staff and residents at the Waynesville facility. Both McQueen and Singleton said the life stories they hear from the thousands of residents they've worked with are one of their favorite parts of the job.
Sometimes, the idea of family is a literal one. Singleton's father-in-law is currently a resident at the center and one who is most eager to share his memories and stories.
"On the bicentennial, he actually rode in a covered wagon, with two mules," Singleton said with a laugh. "He's actually in the Crocker Museum. There's a story about what he did and some of the pictures."
While the staff members maintain a tie to the past through the many residents of Pulaski County, they also continue to look to the future.
"We look forward to growing, our team is growing. There are a lot of new faces around here and our long-term team members are being mentors for our new team," Dawn Payne, admissions and marketing director at the center, said.
Page 2 of 3 - "We're excited about opening our 100 Hall, that's kind of our goal," she added. "We'll have our private rehab to home suites, so that's our initiative right now."
Payne said work continues on that project and an announcement will be made when the refurbished area of the center is open and ready to serve customers.
Staff that matters
Payne said staff members are also a driving force for progress and continued improvement, through education and training.
"If you come in as a CNA and you have goals to be an LPN (licensed practical nurse) then we promote that. If you're an LPN and you have goals to be an RN (registered nurse), then we promote that," she said.
"We don't settle for what we have today, we reach for better tomorrow," Bivens added.
"We continue to try to strive to be better than what we are today."
That attitude has resulted in numerous awards and accolades for the local facility. In 2012, the center was named by U.S. News and World Report as one of the top care facilities in the nation. And just a few weeks ago, on Sept. 10, it was announced that the Waynesville home was Life Care Centers of America's Facility of the Year for the Central Division.
The local center faced stiff competition from other Life Care Centers in Missouri, Indiana, Kansas and Nebraska to win the title.
In a press release, the Life Care president congratulated the Waynesville Center.
"We congratulate this team of associates who, together, have developed such a strong facility," Beecher Hunter, Life Care president, wrote in the release. "The residents and rehab patients at Life Care Center of Waynesville are the real winners as they benefit from the works of love performed by the team every day."
Bivens said that the awards and recognition just go to show that the staff, volunteers and the community all play a part in the center's success.
"There is not a need that we have here that the community has not reached in and helped us take care of," she said. "A piece of getting well is residents being able to see their family. It's not always medical issues; it can be that social issue. We feel like we're fulfilling that with great pride."
Volunteers making a difference
At Life Care Center of Waynesville, the daily activity schedule is always full. While many of the events are put on by staff at the center, the facility also has a constant stream of volunteers who lead church services, help with bingo and share the gift of music with the residents.
Sandi Brewer, part of the center's activity department, said in all the care centers she's worked in, the volunteers at the Waynesville Center leave her speechless.
Page 3 of 3 - "Our volunteers are people that just reach out for others. They're so neat," she said. "Every year it just seems like it grows. Sometimes it's hard to schedule."
Brewer listed various area churches, groups at Fort Leonard Wood, school classes and groups and individuals who have had family members or friends at the center as the volunteers who schedule events on a regular basis.
One of the more recent volunteers is Spc. Alvaro Loaiza, a Fort Leonard Wood soldier who visits every month to play the keyboard for the residents.
"He plays a lot of show tunes," Brewer added. "One of the ladies said to me the other day, 'When he plays, it takes me back to my school days.'"
Loaiza has previously performed as part of the U.S. Army Soldier Show, a prestigious traveling talent show featuring soldiers who sing, dance and play instruments to audiences around the world. But he is just one of many individuals and groups who are dedicated to the residents of the center.
"We've got so many people that contribute to us, I think we've almost become an outreach to the community in some ways," Brewer added. "Life Care Center has really grown since I've been here. I think we've kind of opened our doors to the community and let them know what we have to offer."
The shows and special events aren't just for the residents, community members can also attend. The center's "Senior Prom," held in May, was well-attended by family members, friends and members of the community.
"Even our Elvis impersonator, when he comes, we have people who come from everywhere to see him," Brewer added.
Brewer said she's not always able to put her finger on what makes the Waynesville Center so different than other facilities, but she certainly isn't complaining.
"When I was in Florida, if you didn't pay $150 to hear a bad singer, you couldn't get anyone to come in," Brewer said with a laugh. Now, she said she occasionally finds herself with more volunteers than hours in the day.
"It's because of the community itself, it really is," she added. "You've got the fort, and they're all so giving. And then you have St. Robert and Waynesville and Richland, you have all these small areas where people just know everyone."
She said the positive attitudes of the residents, their family members, the staff and the support of the community makes the local Life Care Center a special place.
"This facility is not promoting a place to die, and I think that's the difference," Brewer added. "This is where you're living your life. There's a different field of thought, so I think it promotes a different atmosphere."