New Horizons Care Center celebrates 30 years of promoting community

By Ryan Fitzmaurice

Thirty years ago, the New Horizons Care Center opened its door. Since that point, it’s had a defining vision – becoming more like a home and less like a nursing home. 

Linda Morrison was on the hospital board when the project was approved to build the new facility. The old facility had a problem. It was too institutional, and worst than that, there was just no place to gather. 

There was one room. Right by the nurses station. It had room for four, maybe five residents, and featured one television set. 

Morrison said the board was focused on creating a different kind of facility, one that promoted comfort and community. 

“We wanted to have a facility that was more like your home,” Morrison said. “We designed for there to be big pods, areas where residents could gather and feel more comfortable.”

Morrison said Marilyn Haskell of the Haskell Furniture Company took special interest in the interior and selected all the furnishings, specifically designing the interior to have the feeling of a home. 

“To me, it seemed less institutional. It seems more like sitting in a living room or your family room,” Matty Moody, an RN at North Big Horn Hospital since 1981, said. “It went from being these areas that were hardly functional for groups, to our residents feeling comfortable and feeling like it was their home. It was decorated like a home and not like an institution.”

Residents’ rooms now opened up into social spaces, encouraging interaction. And, quickly, the concept worked.

Moody said when the new facility first opened, workers at the care center were still operating under the idea of the old one, where meals were eaten isolated in rooms. But a group of residents had enough of that idea when the new facility opened.

“It was a group of women. They were the first ones to set up their meal table,” Moody said.
“It was more like a homestyle thing. I think that’s when we started gravitating towards that. It was driven by residents. It’s what they wanted, and it really was a benefit.”

Julaine Askvig, who had worked at NBHH for 40 years in the radiology department, said that instantly this newfound philosophy transformed the quality of life for the New Horizons Care Center residents.

“I feel like they build better friendships,” Askvig said. “They eat together. They play cards. They do puzzles. They watch TV. They get along so well. That’s a great thing for them, mentally and socially. That social aspect is what drives people When you think about your own family, you gather to eat a meal. That’s still important for our residents.”

Moody recalled when a friend finally got to the point where she had to put her mother in the care center. The mother was both firmly against the proposition and dreading it. But when her friend talked to her mother a few days later, there was a dramatic difference.

“Once she got here and was here for a few weeks, she was like, ‘Gosh. This isn’t at all like I pictured in my mind. I have friends here.’” Moody said. “Before, she was isolated. She only had her daughter taking care of her. But she found she really enjoyed the care center.”

With more space for social gathering came more space for community events, as well. Darlynn Durfee, a longtime RN at NBHH, said the multipurpose room soon became home to just about every kind of event. 

Church services would be held there, Bible studies, Christmas programs, Halloween celebrations, even regular concerts.

Music night was a hit, where local bands, typically the Cowley Boys, would play once a week. A resident of the nursing home became a defacto member of the band, playing bongos on stage and even taking the microphone for a few numbers. Askvig said the resident would practice for the show throughout the entire week. 

Or there was the other big hit, the Halloween trick-or-treat. 

“Each resident had a bowl of candy in the multipurpose room, and the little kids would come in all dressed up and go visit each resident and get a piece of candy, and that was our version of trick-or-treating,” Moody said. “The residents loved it. They loved the costumes and the kids.”

More regular amenities were also provided. A beauty parlor is set up once a week in the care center, with volunteers or recreation staff doing up the resident’s hair. A local barber comes in to polish up the men. 

“If they want it, they just come and line up,” Moody said. “It’s very much what their life was like.”

Janice Clark, who has worked in the New Horizons Care Center since it opened, said the residents have even started a quasi government in the facility. The elected residents meet regularly to discuss changes they would like to make, and then a representative meets with the nursing director to negotiate.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a wrinkle when it comes to the focus on community, but the staff and residents have been creative.

“Today’s technology, I have a problem with it. But these two residents have totally got into the Wii.” Durfee said. “Every day you see them out there bowling. They might have their masks on. They might be six feet apart, but they have their Wii controllers, and they’re bowling up a storm.”

Also added for the New Horizons Care Center was the restorative room, where residents are able to have access to physical therapy and regular exercise.

The new facility has other benefits. The old nursing home was a block away from the hospital, putting up obstacles for care and necessary services to be provided. With the New Horizons Care Center attached to North Big Horn Hospital, far better care can be provided.

“Now it’s so easy for providers to just pop over there if someone needs testing,” Moody  said. “It’s just so nice. The quality of our care  improved so much when we were connected.”

The facility is also far more secure. Durfee recalls when a resident snuck out the back door of the old nursing home, went across the road and found herself in a field looking at the horses that grazed there.

“It just made her day, but we were all frantic trying to find her,” Durfee said.

Now the second-floor Alzheimers branch has locked doors that require a badge to open, while also providing ample hallway space for residents to move to their hearts’ content. 

The New Horizons Care Center also gives residents private rooms, where as the old facility placed multiple residents in a room, sometimes with curtains separating them, sometimes not. 

But, what most sets the New Horizons Care Center apart isn’t so tangible.

“It’s the care and love that people get, it’s so wonderful,” Askvig said. 

Maryanne Anderson said that while she was being trained she spent six weeks in a nursing home in another community and found it an unpleasant experience. When she ended up in the local care center, she dreaded repeating the experience. This one was different, though.

“Here, the people really care,” Anderson said. “The other one, they looked at it as a job and not caring for people. This one right here, you care for people. It’s not a job. They become part of your family.”

Quite literally, Anderson remembers when she brought her infant child into the care center. He was quickly claimed.

“I brought him in, and one of the residents, she took him and said, ‘That’s my son. That’s my kid.’” Anderson said. “She quickly changed his diaper and gave him a bottle.”

Clark said the pandemic has stopped her from bringing her own grandchildren into the care center for almost three years. The residents haven’t forgotten them.

“They ask about them all the time,” Clark said. 

Durfee remembers when a resident who was new to the care center mention that she had come to the center to die. The CNA attending her instantly corrected her.

“‘This is not a place to die, this is a place to live,’ (the CNA) said,” Durfee recalled. “And that’s their attitude. They want to make it as nice an experience as they can. It’s a continuance of life.”