Home is a place where one lives with total freedom and independence. For the frail elderly, aging takes away much of this independence, especially when one is no longer able to live alone.
Keith and Pam Friesen, partners in marriage and business, opened Crystal Lake Home Assisted Living in 2004 with the goal of creating a place where seniors could live with freedom and independence no matter how physically limited they became. The goal was to let seniors maintain as much control over their care as possible instead of having their care control them. The key word is home, a place that would offer an alternative to traditional nursing home care.
Certified as an advanced nurse practitioner, Pam brings over 40 years of hands on nursing experience. She works closely with residents and their families and coordinates with staff to provide care. Keith oversees the financial and material management side of the business. He also brings experience in the regulatory arena, having worked for 14 years at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Working together has been both rewarding and challenging for the Friesens. Like most small businesses, separating work time and off time can be difficult, but good communication, respecting each other’s roles and maintaining healthy boundaries helps make all the difference.
Growing along with the rapidly changing and highly-regulated long term care industry, Keith and Pam pursued an expansion of the business by opening Oak Hill Senior Living in the spring of 2014.
The expansion at Oak Hill began with the purchase of a 10-acre site on the north side of town near McKinney Lake. The Friesens approached Grand Rapids State Bank to pursue financing. Working with Jared Pink, their business lender at Grand Rapids State Bank, they walked through the process of securing the funds needed to develop the site with road and sewer and build the structures that have become the Oak Hills Senior Assisted Living project.
The first building at Oak Hill opened in 2014, offering 10 private rooms and baths, all on one level, centered around a warm and open family kitchen and dining area. An attached second building which mirrors the first will open this fall. The resident rooms are spacious, warm and bright with individually controlled in-floor heat. The building is energy “wise” with LED lighting, high efficiency water heating, recycling of a majority of waste and prudent use of resources.
The Friesens chose a small-home model to offer seniors a more personal, intimate experience that embraces families and friends while providing for independence and privacy. Meaningful friendships and shared stories exist as people enjoy the daily companionship of others. Their smaller home model offers high levels of flexibility in terms of routines, food choices, personal care and socialization. Residents are able to smell the fresh aromas of cooking and baking while watching staff prepare home-cooked meals. Residents may actually participate in the cooking process, perhaps adding their own favorite recipes and suggestions to the menu.
As part of the expansion at Oak Hill, Keith and Pam included the Acorn Art Gallery. The gallery is central to their belief and commitment that creativity is an essential and powerful element of human life, no matter what your age or abilities. It is a space dedicated to art for seniors, to bring people together both within the Oak Hill community but also together with a larger community of friends, families and neighbors. The Acorn Gallery encourages social interaction. “This is a place to express who we are and what we bring to the world through a variety of creative activities,” explained Pam.
The heart of Oak Hill, though, is the outstanding, dedicated staff of nurses and companion caregivers who provide 24/7 awake assistance. Keith and Pam employ over 20 staff, with the majority of them full time. Committed to providing strong oversight and supervision, Oak Hill employs four nurses in addition to Pam. All the nurses provide hands-on care, minimizing emergency room visits and catching medical issues hopefully while they’re still small.
With the opening of the second building this fall, all the residents, staff and families at Crystal Lake Home will move over to Oak Hill. Crystal Lake Home will close its doors after almost 13 years of care and service. The house itself then will then be put on the market for sale.