Words by Aliya Hall, Photo by Brian Davies/The Register-Guard
VENETA — Tucked away in a Veneta neighborhood, Sherwood Pines Residential Care is one of the few Lane County businesses outside Eugene and Springfield that specialize in taking care of people with dementia.
With capacity for 16 residents, the home has been owned since 2005 by Karyn Baker and Lisa Cooley.
Sherwood Pines is a 3,500-square-foot home with 12 bedrooms, three bathrooms, a kitchen, a large, open dining room and a living room. The grounds include a fenced-in patio with gazebo and a small herb, flower and vegetable garden.
Most of Sherwood Pines’ 16 employees do not wear uniforms. Instead, Baker and Cooley encourage them to wear everyday clothes, which helps maintain the homey atmosphere.
“We want them to look like family, like you would be in your own home,” Baker said. “It’d be weird if the residents had people in uniforms in their own home.”
Laura Lehew, the sister of Sherwood Pines’ resident Karen Eaton, said her experience with the facility has been “really wonderful.”
Eaton has been at Sherwood Pines for 10 years. She “seems to like it there,” Lehew said.
Eaton had previously lived in a facility that wasn’t a good fit for her, Lehew said.
“(Sherwood Pines) was perfect, and I moved her out there,” Lehew said. “It’s a good fit — small, with a lot of the same people there, and good care.”
One of the first things that caught Lehew’s attention was the garden. Eaton enjoys gardening and being outside during the summer. Other homes that Lehew considered did not have the same amenity.
“(The staff) is proactive and very caring,” Lehew said. “By having the same people and not a lot of turnover, my sister gets quality care. She’s younger and more active than the people there, and (staff) goes out of their way to facilitate her and have her use her brain, not just watch TV. They’re very good about it.”
Lane County, including Eugene and Springfield, has 24 memory care facilities. Sherwood Pines is one of six memory care homes in rural communities of the county, according to the Oregon Department of Human Services.
Baker, 56, has worked with memory loss patients since 1990 after she got her start as a certified nursing assistant at Good Neighbor Care in Eugene.
When she first met residents with dementia, Baker said she realized it was “all I wanted to do.”
“I like old people with dementia,” she said. “They’re raw human beings. They’re exposed and the social screen is lifted. When they’re happy, they’re happy. When they’re sad, they’re sad. It’s super honest. There’s something attractive to me about that.”
Cooley had experience as a human resources coordinator and administrator. She met Baker at Good Neighbor Care in about 1999.
“I fell in love with staff development and people with dementia,” Cooley, 50, said. “The true passion came from going into each (memory) home. It made me want to stay there with the residents.”
Cooley said people often ask her why she has chosen to work in the dementia care field. She tells them that her work helps people at the end of their lives, providing them with care and companionship so they do not face death alone.
Cooley and Baker weren’t planning to go into business together, but the idea arose on their way to a coastal work retreat.
They stopped in Veneta to visit a former resident who was living in a longterm care home — Sherwood Residential Care — that was owned by Maria Farris. The home was licensed by the state as a residential care and assisted living facility.
Farris, who was looking to sell her business, suggested to Cooley and Baker that they buy it.
Soon Baker and Cooley began to ask each other, “‘What if we could buy it?’ ” Baker said.
By pooling equity out of each of their houses and getting loans from three banks, the women agreed to buy Farris’ business and the home for $780,000.
They figure the loans will be paid off in 10 years.
Sherwood Pines didn’t start with the memory care specialization. At first, Baker and Cooley accepted as residents elderly people, those with mental health problems and brain injuries.
But in 2006, Baker’s mom, who has multiple sclerosis, moved into the home. With her own mother as a resident, Baker gained a perspective of what families of residents with dementia go through.
From her earlier work career, Baker knew what it was like to deal with the death of elderly residents, but she was not prepared to go through the long goodbye” that’s endured by relatives of people with memory loss.
“I miss her being my mom,” Baker said. “She’s still my mom and I get to talk to her every day, but I miss her listening to me. But how lucky am I that I get to see her everyday? I can take care of her, but it’s not 24/7. I get to go home and be the daughter. I get to have (caregivers) that have me say, ‘I would put my mom in this facility.’ And I did.”
Soon, Sherwood Pines had become a state-licensed dementia care home.
Cooley said the partners made the change because of their passion in caring for people with dementia. Also, favorable state payments for Medicaid and Medicare patients allows them to accept low-income residents.
To get the different license, the partners had to conduct certain renovations, including the installation of a backup generator, upgrade fire protection and improve the electrical system.
As an owner, Baker has learned about hospice care.
“I like hospice work,” she said. “I like being the last person to bathe somebody, touch somebody — to be there. I want to be there for as many people as I can. We’ll go through old charts and start crying thinking about how many people have touched our lives; it’s really amazing.”
Cooley said there aren’t enough beds in Lane County to meet the demand for dementia patients. In some cases, memory loss patients are placed in facilities that don’t meet their needs.
“Assisted living facilities are not made for people with dementia,” Cooley said. “But there’s not enough beds. A lot of people don’t understand that when you go into a place that looks like a hotel and think it’s great, for a person with dementia, they’re lost in the shuffle. They can’t find their way around, like to the dining room, and end up skipping meals.”
Sherwood Pines has a waiting list for admission.
Baker said that there are “great facilities’’ in Eugene that focus on caring for smaller groups of people with dementia. However, she said her business has a resident who formerly lived in a large home. He was on hospice before moving to Sherwood Pines.
“Now he’s walking, eating, laughing,” Baker said. “He’s a totally different person. He needed personal care, three balanced meals a day, and just love.”
Residents get to participate in different activities, including music, exercise, walking parties, and a van ride once or twice a week.
“It’s like that movie “Groundhog Day,” ” Baker said. “You get a redo every day. A clean slate every time you walk in. If a resident has a bad day and you don’t take it personal — because you can’t take it personal — then they won’t remember and you can start over. Everything you learned from the person one day you can bring to the table the next day.”
When it comes time to retire, Cooley and Baker said they hope to sell the business to someone with the same philosophy about resident care. Ideally, they said, they’d want to pass it on to someone already involved in the business.
Until then, Cooley and Baker agree that residents are the most rewarding aspect of their careers.
“It’s raw love,” Baker said. “When the residents give you a hug, you’ve been properly hugged. And when they’re mad at you, they mean that, too. If they’re upset, you can figure out the layers of what’s bothering them, and it’s always something human, like fear. We have to loop them back into their happy spot. And it’s satisfying redirecting patients and have it succeed.”
SHERWOOD PINES RESIDENTIAL CARE
Address: 87986 Sherwood St., Veneta
Owners: Karyn Baker, Lisa Cooley
Year founded: 2005
Annual sales: Not disclosed