Emphasis on the personal: Candy Schainker reflects

By Laura Millsaps
Special to The Ames Tribune

Published: Wednesday, July 7, 2010
When Candy Schainker, senior activities director at Story County Medical Center Senior Care, sits down for a moment to talk, it’s in a nursing home atmosphere with houseplants, comfortable armchairs and a cage of parakeets. A house cat makes the rounds of resident rooms.

 It might seem like nothing noteworthy, but the backdrop for Schainker’s conversation reflects the major shift in nursing home care philosophy she’s seen since she started this job in 1979.

 “When I first started here, the whole emphasis on senior care was much more the medical model, just like it was everywhere. It was about treating illnesses,” she said.

 Since then, the turnabout has been to an environment where residents’ lives resemble as much as possible one they might have at home, with the benefit of an activities schedule that engages them socially.

 “Now we concentrate on the quality of their life,” she said. “That is a huge cultural change. You don’t come here to die; you come here to live.”

 Schainker came to Story County Medical Center as a 22-year-old when her husband, Steve Schainker, took a management position with the city of Ames. Her background in education was parks and recreation and therapeutic recreation, and she had worked previously in pediatric oncology before the move.

 “My career here has had wonderful support, both personally and professionally,” she said. “The administration has always valued our programs, has always provided ample budget, and the nursing staff is wonderful.
 “I love the relationships you make here. In many ways, you spend more time with these people than you do with your own family. Everything else that you do in this job you do to make those relationships stronger.”

 Schainker said working in a nursing home associated with a medical center has been a professional blessing and advantage to the residents.

 “I consult regularly with the medical staff here, from physical therapy to the lab,” she said. “That makes for better care for our residents.”

 When Schainker started her career, an activities schedule didn’t really exist in the way we might think of it now.

 “People would hardly ever come out of their rooms,” she said. “There just wasn’t any reason for that.”

 Now, a monthly activities schedule includes outings for music, theatre and dining out, as well as social events at the nursing home.

 “We really try to push the limit of where we take our residents,” she said. “And we also include them in the decision-making and planning.”

 For instance, one of the new events added to the calendar is a happy hour two Fridays a month.

 “It’s like normal life,” Schainker said. “Like they were living at home, and might want to enjoy a cocktail at the end of the week.”

 That resident-driven model shows up in everything the nursing home now does, even to offering choices of when to dine and bathe.

 “We’ve been into this mode long enough to see the positive results,” she said. “People are happier. The staff is happier. The families of our residents are happier, too.”

 Schainker said current trends toward assisted living care means staff will see more nursing home residents that are older, frailer and at times sicker.

 “But we have adapted to the needs of Story County over time, and we’ll continue to do that,” she said.

 The nursing home care facility remains in the north campus buildings in Nevada after Story County Medical Center moved to its new facilities in August 2009. Relocating nursing home facilities is part of a third phase planned tentatively for five to seven years from now. In the meantime, the north campus will undergo room renovations. Schainker is philosophical about the wait and optimistic for the future.

 “I’ve been a part of this for so long,” she said. “It’s exciting to see where we are now and where we’re going in the future. I feel privileged to work here.”