It’s a special little community unto itself.

Bethany Pioneer Village is nestled in a beautiful park-like setting near Lucien Lake Regional Park, right outside the town limits of Middle Lake, Saskatchewan. Bethany offers independent living units, assisted living and a long term care home.

There’s a lot about Bethany that’s special, from its ability to allow residents to age in place, to the attitude of staff and leadership, to its setting and community ties.

The front entrance to Aspen Lodge at Bethany Pioneer Village.

Bethany Pioneer Village near Middle Lake offers independent living units, assisted living units, and a long term care home, called Aspen Lodge.

Aging in place is one of the philosophies that Bethany has employed for 30 years. Bethany’s residents often first move into the independent units, then to Birch Manor for assisted living, when they need to. Finally, they can make the move to Aspen Manor, the long-term care home, when they need more supports. What this means is that by the time they are ready for long term care, they already know the buildings, the grounds, their neighbours and their caregivers. Bethany is already home; they’re just moving to another part of it.

Walking into Aspen Manor, the first thing that greets you is the wonderful smell. The dining room and kitchen are right near the front entrance, and the appetizing scents make visitors instantly feel like they’ve walked into grandma’s house.

“The setup of Aspen Manor is great,” said Colette Meszaros, director of care at Bethany. “It’s easy to make it feel like home.”

Throughout Aspen Manor there are quiet spaces: the aptly named quiet room, a sunroom with a fireplace for those chilly days, a prayer room, and one called

The prayer room in Aspen Manor.

The prayer room in Aspen Manor.

the reminiscence room, which includes antique furniture and things that were once found in older homes, like a cream separator and an old telephone.

“The reminiscence room has turned out to be a fabulous addition for us,” Meszaros said. “People with dementia who have exhibited aggressive tendencies really calm down in this room. Within minutes, they start remembering their youth and find themselves in a happy place.”

The reminiscence room in Aspen Manor

The Reminiscence room at Aspen Manor at Bethany Pioneer Village is filled with antiques which provoke memories for residents.

Aspen Manor is missing a multipurpose room, and that’s something a group of committed staff, board and auxiliary ladies (made up of mostly former Bethany staff) are working on. Outside, there are plans for a memorial prayer garden – created with a gift from a family – in memory of one of their residents.

It’s the little things in Bethany that make a huge difference. For instance, the windows on Aspen Manor are tinted, so no curtains are required for privacy. Residents can see outside all day long, even while they are receiving care. The tint is also good for seniors, who tend to become more light-sensitive, Meszaros explained.

Birch Manor, the assisted living area, is where many social functions are held.

The multipurpose room at Birch Manor.

The TV room at Birch Manor is filled with natural light.

“The dining room is the biggest single area at Bethany,” explained Sinikka Purmonen, administrator of Bethany Pioneer Village. “So this is where a lot of the community interaction happens.”

Down the hall from the dining room is the TV room, with large windows that overlook the beautiful grounds outside. This is where religious services are held, and other group activities.

Birch Manor also has a separate kitchen, and in addition to regular meals, food is available all day for residents to snack on if they feel hungry, just like a kitchen at home.

Birch Manor rooms

Some of the Birch Manor rooms come with interior front porches residents can decorate.

The resident rooms in Birch Manor can be large, as in the new part of the building, some rooms have small front “porches” outside their interior doors. Most residents have furniture on these porches, so they can sit in comfort but still interact with those going by.

Making Bethany a home for all

But it’s more than the building layout that makes Bethany a home for many. It’s also how the place is run.

“Inclusive” and “validating” are two of the words Dr. Zyg Kondzielewski, whose wife lived at Bethany for six weeks before her death last summer, uses to describe the atmosphere there. Kind, friendly, loving, patient and feel good are other words he used in his description.

“No wonder I love to visit here,” he said of his regular visits to the home, even now after his wife has died.

In addition to his wife being a resident, Kondzielewski was the attending physician at Bethany for 28 years. Over the years, he saw it develop from a good nursing home to a special care home that provides for the emotional, spiritual and social needs of residents, in addition to providing food, washing, dressing and a bed.

“Like most caregivers who have to see a loved one move into a special care home, I feared for [my wife] waking in a strange bed, in a strange room, with strangers about,” Kondzielewski said. “I was pleasantly surprised how quickly and ably staff settled her anxieties and mine. Personalized interaction with inclusion, reassurance, laughter, meaningful activities, hugs and hand holding looked effortless and automatic. Staff worked efficiently and carefully, and I was pleased to see all staff – administrative, nursing, aids, dietary, housekeeping and laundry – interact so kindly with guests and each other. Demented people were not acting out; good management replaced restraints and sedation. The way staff recognized the classy lady hiding in body of an old woman was very touching.”

He told the story of one resident, a former farmer, who went on one of the crop tours arranged by Bethany in the fall, during harvest. The bus stopped at this resident’s former farm, and he visited with his wife and his dog before happily hopping back on the bus to go back to Bethany.

“That showed me that, in his mind, Bethany was now home. His emotional heart was here,” Kondzielewski said.

“It’s a peacefulness within yourself,” noted Sharon Carter, a member of the Bethany Pioneer Village board. “To get there, you have to be so well taken care of that you know it’s the right place for you to be. What makes Bethany exceptional is that so many residents have that peacefulness.”

“Compassion, caring and core competencies here are high,” said Ryan Schnee, another board member, when asked what’s special about Bethany. “Residents are being cared for well. People are comfortable. You have a sense, when you’re in the dining room, that medication is being managed well, and people are being fed well. It’s bemoaned in other facilities, that if a family member isn’t there to help, a resident is not fed enough. I’d never fear if someone I cared for was here. Hospitality is offered to everyone who visits. It’s automatic that family will be cared for along with residents – everyone is invited to eat at mealtime.”

Community living

The assisted living and long-term care home are physically connected through a hallway; however, the entire Bethany community and beyond is linked through the events and activities that go on.

The activities program at Aspen Manor, run by Betty-Ann Godart, is inclusive for everyone who lives at Bethany.

There are excursions that take residents for regular outings, with crop tours in the spring and fall among the most popular. There are regular socials which the entire Bethany community and members of the public are invited to attend. Fitness classes are held in both Aspen and Birch Manors, as are craft activities and movie nights.

“Almost monthly, the staff goes out of their way to do events, parties – all kinds of things. There’s no lack of something to look forward to for the residents,” said Carter.

If they are able, residents are free to putter around outside, gardening in one of the raised beds or flower beds, or picking berries in the raspberry patch.

“The raspberries have been just fabulous for residents,” Meszaros said. “They love to pick them.”

It all comes down to one thing: at Bethany, residents can make choices about how they want to spend their day, and the staff supports those choices. For instance, if a resident in Aspen or Birch Manor has the urge to bake, the staff makes it happen in their activities kitchen.

Or if residents want to pitch in and help out and fold towels to help the laundry staff, they can.

“It gives them purpose, and they feel they have contributed to their home,” Meszaros said.

A few years ago, one resident insisted that Meszaros learned how to make sauerkraut, and so she and a number of volunteer residents set about making it – cutting it, stomping it, adding salt.  In their first year, they made 50 pounds, and in their second year, they made 100.

“She wasn’t around this year to make it, so in honour of her, we made another 100 pounds of sauerkraut. The staff and residents all pitch in. It brings back a lot of memories,” Meszaros said.

Culinary delights

The food is another reason the residents are so happy at Bethany.

“When you sit down here for a meal, it’s like you’re in someone’s home,” Schnee said. “There are real potatoes, perogies, sausage, sauerkraut. It’s not institutional.”

Aspen Manor's dining room

The kitchen and dining room of Aspen Manor are right off the front entrance.

Each wing of Aspen Manor gets a turn once a month to decide on the menu of a meal and to prepare for it together. They even set a special, formal table where they can all sit together and enjoy it.

“It allows them to establish relationships with each other while they’re doing this,” said Meszaros. “For new residents, it really allows them to find friends.”

The staff is very keen on keeping those in long-term care independent. There are no formal therapy or rehab programs, but they work to keep people moving – walking, feeding themselves, interacting with others, doing as much for themselves as long as they can.

“It’s not that the staff doesn’t want to help them,” Meszaros stressed. “They just know how good it is for the residents when they stay independent as long as possible, and they want to support that. The staff here is truly phenomenal.”

Right by the door is a television that shows photos of the residents, living their lives at Bethany.

“People are still living here,” Meszaros said about why that television was placed there. “We want our visitors to know that.”