Berrien County Hospital recently opened a new unit designed to help seniors with problems they often face as a result of aging.

Dogwood Senior Health Center, located at 1221 E. McPherson Ave. in Nashville, began taking patients on Monday, Jan. 18. The facility is open to seniors from Berrien and surrounding counties.

Dogwood Senior Health Center Program Director Brenda McCorvey said Berrien County Hospital maintenance staff, under the direction of Maintenance Director Terrell Sumner, renovated a former Intensive Care Unit that was never fully utilized by the small, rural hospital, to make room for the new facility.

Jim Janek, one of the owners of Berrien County Hospital and the adjacent nursing home, said doing the remodeling in-house saved the hospital considerable money. The project came in on time and under budget, Janek said.

Dogwood Senior Health Center is a short-term treatment facility designed to assess patients ages 55 and older and develop an appropriate treatment plan. Patients stay anywhere from seven to 21 days, McCorvey said. Treating the problems of the geriatric patients may require nothing more than tweaking their medications, she said.

The center treats age-related problems, including loneliness, depression, anxiety, trouble sleeping, confusion, memory impairments, mood swings, grief, relationship difficulties, delusions, inability to function, isolation and loss of appetite, among others, according to a brochure.

The facility can accommodate up to 12 patients at a time. In addition to the six double rooms, each with its own bathroom and handicap-accessible shower, there is a communal dining area, an area provided with armchairs and a wall-mounted television for socializing, a therapy room, a room used by staff for meetings, and two other rooms that can be adapted to a variety of purposes, McCorvey said.

During the renovation process, walls were removed and the unit was opened up, making it both spacious and safer. Nurses and other staff have a clear view from the front to the back of the unit, except those areas designed for privacy. Colorful curtains let in abundant sunlight. The furniture is sturdy and comfortable. Pictures, plants and other embellishments adorn the walls and tables.

“We wanted it to be a very homelike environment,” said Chief Nursing Officer Carla Fowler. “With only 12 beds, we’ll be able to give patients a lot of one-on-one care. In some ways it would probably be easier to make it very clinical like a hospital and not have extended visiting hours and family involvement, but that’s not what we’re here for.”

The motto of Dogwood Senior Health Center is: Committed to Compassionate Community Care. Center staff members include a full-time activity therapist and social worker. Dr. Joe Morgan is the resident psychiatrist. Being located in a wing of Berrien County Hospital, the facility is well-situated to handle both psychiatric and medical issues, Fowler said.

“One of the things that makes us a little different from other places is that we’re attached to the hospital,” Fowler said. “If somebody is on a lot of medicine, for example, and having a hard time getting around, and they also have some kind of physical problem, like a minor skin tear or something like that, it doesn’t necessarily keep them from coming here because we have nurses on staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week who can take care of those needs.”

Staff Social Worker Kristin Powell was helping an elderly patient put together a puzzle the day after the new unit started accepting patients.

“Not only is she helping put the puzzle together,” McCorvey said, “she’ll also be asking questions and the patient will be responding to her, and Kristin will be picking up on what’s troubling her and what may be going on.”

“We’re very fortunate that we were able to hire some seasoned staff, psychiatric nurses and people who have worked with geriatric patients in a lot of different settings, so we feel real comfortable with the staff that we have,” Fowler said. “Once the nurses behind the desk are done with their paperwork, they’ll be out interacting with the patients. We can sit and play checkers or we can do therapeutic things.”

Fowler said Dogwood Senior Health Center isn’t modeled on any other treatment center that she’s aware of. The owners did quite a bit of research, she said, talking mostly with nursing homes throughout the region, and determined there was a need for a local facility with the ability and resources to treat certain types of age-related problems.

“We got reports just a couple weeks ago that people were having to go as far away as Alabama for care,” Fowler said.

Citizens of Berrien and surrounding counties now have access to quality care a lot closer to home, she said.

“As we grow older, things that used to be easy as independent adults can become very difficult,” Fowler said. “The lost physical independence and the decline in physical health puts the mind and body under a lot of stress. After the loss of spouses or children, depression might set in and they’ll have crying spells, or there can be memory impairment and cognitive impairment, and families may have to deal with the issues of dementia and Alzheimer’s.”

Family support is an important factor affecting the quality of life of geriatric patients, Fowler said. Center staff will involve the families in treatment whenever they have the patient’s permission and the cooperation of family members, she added.

“The family is a huge piece of what their being is about and sometimes you’re very fortunate and they have a lot of family support, and sometimes there is no family support. It makes a huge difference,” Fowler said.

The treatment program at Dogwood Senior Health Center focuses on the patient’s well-being and safety and is designed to foster relationships with the center’s staff, Fowler said.

“It’s not just somewhere to bring somebody and give them medicines and make it all perfect. We will bring them in and teach them positive ways to cope and to understand that it’s part of the aging process. Our goal is to help them keep their independence,” Fowler said.

Patients can refer themselves to the center or they can be referred by their doctor, public care physician, or a family member, Fowler said. After an initial assessment, Morgan will make a decision as to whether the patient meets the admission criteria. Those who are accepted will be followed by a medical doctor as well, she said.

Once patients leave the program, Dogwood staff will make sure they have appropriate follow up, networking with Georgia Home Health and any other agencies deemed beneficial, Fowler said.

Family members of the elderly often assume eccentric behavior is a natural part of growing old, Fowler said, but that’s not always the case.

“We want people to know that, when things aren’t right, there is help and a lot of times we can impact the quality of life of geriatric patients.”

To learn more, call the Dogwood Senior Health Center at (229) 543-7468.

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