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WYOCENA — Longevity is an overwhelming theme for some of the employees at Columbia Health Care Center.

More than half of the 120 employees have worked at the skilled nursing facility for more than five years, Administrator Amy Yamriska said. Twenty-nine of them have worked there for more than 20 years, including Yamriska.

The facility itself turned 160 years old in 2019, said Stacey Baldowin, a licensed practical nurse who marks 40 years of employment Monday.

“It’s hard to believe,” she said. “Sometimes I tell people I started here when I was 12.”

Her daughter, Registered Nurse Manager Alicia Casey, has worked at the facility for 12 years. Her memories of the facility go as far back as she can remember.

“I feel like I grew up here,” Casey said, sharing memories of how her family would sometimes bring its horses to the facility for residents to enjoy.

“I even played the Easter Bunny here, as a middle schooler.”

National Skilled Nursing Care Week started on Mother’s Day, recognizing the role that facilities like CHCC play for seniors and individuals with disabilities, said Yamriska, who has worked with Baldowin for 21 years and still remembers when Casey was in high school.

“It’s been fun watching her mature,” Yamriska said of Casey, who is sometimes her mother’s boss depending on the project.

“I always tell her to remember where she came from,” Baldowin said.

CHCC currently has 70 total residents and roughly half of them are living in “memory care neighborhoods” that first opened in 2000. CHCC provides therapy services including physical, occupational and speech seven days a week to the center’s residents and community members who need outpatient services.

CHCC is officially owned by Columbia County but hasn’t received county tax dollars for 16 years, according to Lori Aldridge in Human Resources. “We take care of everything in the budget,” she said.

The facility is located on 16 acres along Duck Creek with an accessible fishing pier among its recreational activities available to residents.

Baldowin, who works in one of the five memory care neighborhoods, said she’s seen many changes in the industry over the past four decades, most of them good. There’s more paperwork for employees to fill out today than ever before due to ever-increasing state requirements, cutting into the time the nurses might otherwise spend with their patients, she said, but on the other hand, the level of care that facilities provide to residents is improving each year.

“The medications and just our general understanding of the elderly is so much better today,” Baldowin said. “We can get folks the right kind of treatment, and we’ve also gained knowledge of how to interact with them and make their lives as easy as possible. Growing old should not be so hard.”

Compassion and patience top the list of traits nurses need, Baldowin said. She gained perspective for that when her grandparents on her mother’s side stayed at the facility in the late 1980s and early 1990s and also when her husband’s grandmothers, on both sides of his family, resided there as well.

“Thinking of my grandparents, it just made a huge difference,” Baldowin said. “We take a lot of pride in what we do and want what’s best for (residents).”

“Dementia is a sad, sad disease,” Baldowin said of her work in the memory care unit, where many of the residents “wake up every day in a place that’s not familiar to them.”

“They can’t always remember our names but often they eventually seem to know who we are,” Baldowin said. “We’re their safety nets.”

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau or contact him at 608-695-4956.

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Portage Daily Register Reporter

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