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Innovative Programs and Engaged Staff Improve Quality of Life at Silver Bay Veterans Home

The Minnesota Veterans Home in Silver Bay honors veterans’ ser­vice by providing a comfortable and secure living environment, in­novative programs, award-winning care, and a place where veterans re­ceive the respect and support they deserve.

Established in 1991, the home currently has 54 full-time residents, almost half of whom are living with dementia. Dementia care is a big part of the focus of this facility.

There are almost 100 people em­ployed at the Veterans Home.

“Two of those people started working here in 1991,” said Ran­dall Walz, Volunteer Service Coor­dinator. “Tammy Svir in Medical Records and Penny Ernest in Nu­trition Management.

Walz said the staffing situation, a nationwide problem for health­care providers, is improving. “We always need more nurses, which is just a fact in our industry,” he said. “But our employees are engaged, and they know they can make a dif­ference in the lives of our residents and the operation of the home.”

Like most rural healthcare facili­ties, the Veterans Home employs a fair number of so-called traveling staff–nurses and other profession­als who come in to work for short periods. Walz finds that sometimes, these temporary staff members de­cide to stay, are attracted by the area and the workplace culture, and become permanent employees.

“Everybody knows each other here,” Walz said. “They know we can trust each other.”

Earlier this year, Jake Ojala, a physical therapy assistant at the home, received the District B Caregiver of the Year Award at the LeadingAge Minnesota annual conference. LeadingAge is a mis­sion-driven organization network that serves older adults in all the places they call home. The award honors Ojala for his commitment to older adults and his work to enrich the quality of life for those under his care.

The Silver Bay Veterans Home staff is actively engaged in ongoing efforts to improve processes and achieve better, more efficient care for residents with support from ICAN. According to Walz, the ICAN (Integrated Care for Older Adults Network) Quality Improve­ment Contest, organized by Leadin­gAge Minnesota, is an initiative to enhance the care and services pro­vided to older adults. In the 2023 contest, Silver Bay Veterans Home achieved notable recognition by se­curing both second and third place for its innovative projects.

Its “Wound Care Supply Stan­dardization” project, which won second place, was designed to reor­ganize and standardize wound care supplies across the facility. The problem was that nursing stations needed to be more consistent with inventory. Non-standard organiza­tion of supplies sometimes slowed the care process and created or­dering discrepancies. The project resulted in significant cost savings and improved staff satisfaction and morale.

The staff also developed “Walk­ing Rounds,” a project which took third place. It encourages clear communication regarding resi­dent-centered care. Nursing As­sistant staff now receive reports at the beginning of each shift. They then visit specific residents with their peers from the previous shift to monitor quality metrics. “The result is increased communication between Nursing Assistant care partners, above-standard Resident care, a decrease in shift-to-shift incomplete tasks, and better com­munication to other nursing staff,” Walz said.

Currently, staff is working to address a long-time problem with lost laundry. The home uses an outside laundry service and has ex­perienced the loss of bedding and residents’ clothing. “Our staff has developed process changes in how laundry is pre-sorted before leav­ing the facility,” Walz said. “Those steps created considerable savings in costs for residents and the facil­ity.”

The Minnesota Veterans Home, a picturesque facility overlooking Lake Superior, is more than just a place to live. It’s a community. With its four unique households, each designed to emulate the cozy ambiance of North Woods lodges, the home fosters a strong sense of belonging among its residents. These units have communal living rooms, dining areas, and kitchens, where residents can gather and share their stories. The facility also boasts outdoor patios with garden­ing space, a rehabilitation gym for specialized therapy, a crafts room, and a recreation area, providing a variety of activities for the resi­dents to enjoy together.

The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, the governing body responsible for the Silver Bay home, is dedicated to the welfare of our veterans. It proclaims every day as Veterans Day, a testament to its unwavering commitment to honoring and supporting our veter­ans.

Steve Fernlund
Steve Fernlund
Typically these “about me” pages include a list of academic achievements (I have none) and positions held (I have had many, but who really cares about those?) So, in the words of the late Admiral James Stockwell, “Who am I? Why am I here?” I’m well into my seventh decade on this blue planet we call home. I’m a pretty successful husband, father, and grandfather, at least in my humble opinion. My progeny may disagree. We have four children and five grandchildren. I spent most of my professional life in the freight business. At the tender age of 40, early retirement beckoned and we moved to Grand Marais. A year after we got here, we bought and operated the Cook County News Herald, a weekly newspaper in Grand Marais. A sharp learning curve for a dumb freight broker to become a newspaper editor and publisher. By 1999 the News Herald was an acquisition target for a rapidly consolidating media market. We sold our businesses and “retired” again, buying a winter retreat in Nevada. In the fall of 2016, we returned to Grand Marais and bought a house from old friends of ours on the ridge overlooking Lake Superior. They were able to move closer to family and their Mexico winter home. And we came home to what we say is our last house. I’m a strong believer in the value of local newspapers--both online and those you can wrap a fish in. I write a weekly column and a couple of feature stories for the Northshore Journal. I’m most interested in writing about the everyday lives of local people and reporting on issues of importance to them.
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