“They let us bring in beer and watch the Packer game. We immediately felt at home.”
That experience on Christmas Eve a few years back was the “a-ha” moment for Pete Horton and his wife Jelaine Horton. Pete’s mother was in her early 90s and living in hospice in Indiana; the family knew her life was nearing its end. Those final moments of comfort, remarkable in their similarity to everyday life, meant the world to the Horton family.
“End of life means living until the end,” said Jelaine, “we felt so thankful. That’s a major reason we decided to contribute to the new Skilled Nursing Facility at Door County Medical Center.”
In June, Door County Medical Center (DCMC) will break ground on their new Skilled Nursing and Hospice Care Center. The Pete and Jelaine Horton Center will be one of only three federally certified and Wisconsin-licensed Skilled Nursing Facilities in all of Door County.
The 2015 U.S. Census Bureau lists the average number of people age 65 and older in Wisconsin at 14.8 percent. In Door County, that figure is almost double at 25.4 percent. People ages 65-75 grew by 16 percent in the past five years and those ages 85 and older during the same period grew by 10 percent.
As our population ages, so, too, does infrastructure. The current Skilled Nursing Facility at DCMC is the last of the patient service areas located in the 1963 building to be updated. The resident restrooms do not accommodate wheelchairs, natural light is scarce, the plumbing is outdated, and there is only one communal room for activities such as meals, therapy and treatment. If residents want to access green space, they need to take elevators down a floor.
“We have a five-star Skilled Nursing Facility [SNF] in place because of our amazing staff and leadership, but we can only do so much within the space we currently have,” said Communication and Marketing Coordinator Erin Shortall.
“Our mission is to improve the health of all in our community, but especially for the poor and the most vulnerable. It is our mission, our duty, to take care of our senior population as they approach the end of their life. Building a new state-of-the-art Skilled Nursing and Hospice/End of Life Facility is the right thing to do, despite the financial cost,” said Mike Herlache, executive director of the Door County Medical Center Foundation.
The 25,000-square-foot Pete and Jelaine Horton Center will be located in the green space on the corner of S.16th Place and Rhode Island Street. Resident-centered care is at the heart of the design and features a “two-neighborhood” approach. Each “neighborhood” offers 15 private skilled nursing resident rooms with one room in each “neighborhood” reserved for End-of-Life/Hospice care. Additional space is provided for family and friends of those receiving end-of-life care.
“This is something entirely new to our SNF, to offer an intimate and connected space for visiting loved ones,” said DCMC President and CEO Gerald Worrick, “it was important for us to shed the institutional feel so common in traditional skilled nursing facilities. This is about enjoying life.”
The list of amenities reads more like a brochure for a boutique hotel. The two neighborhoods collectively share the kitchen, dining room and spa area. The communal space for both also includes an activity room, chapel, salon and a healing garden. Each neighborhood does have its own living room, den and end-of-life/family room.
“The healing garden is an open extension of the building and will be a prominent feature of the facility. The recent addition of city sidewalks around the perimeter of the hospital, combined with the community garden just a block down the road, brings us all a little closer,” said Herlache. “Even more, this will be the only facility of its kind in our community that is attached to a hospital. This is advantageous to residents as almost all of their health care needs are right down the hall including clinic, rehabilitation and emergency services.”
In 1999, the Hortons moved to Sturgeon Bay after Pete was involved in a silo gas accident on their Indiana farm. Door County was a place for him to heal, and an opportunity for the couple to commit to an area they both loved.
“Door County always felt like home,” said Pete. His first visits to the peninsula began with his father, whose company built the familiar blue water towers. Pete’s father passed on the legacy of giving to his son, instilling first and foremost a sense of humility. “We’re just lucky enough that we can do it,” said Pete. “We all do what we can with what we have.”
Internal support for the new skilled nursing facility has been immediate and continues to grow. Of the 650 DCMC employees, 25 percent have collectively given $70,000. All of the Door County Medical Center Board of Directors, senior leadership and department leadership have contributed.
“No one likes to think about what will happen to our grandparents and parents someday down the road, as their independent living skills change, but it will bring peace of mind to know that DCMC will have this facility to take care of these loved ones – that’s why I contributed,” said Shortall.
“It never ceases to amaze me how committed the community is to helping ensure that quality health care continues to be provided at DCMC,” said Herlache. “Growing older is something we all get to do, if we’re lucky. I personally feel that we owe it to our senior population, to ourselves, to build a state-of-the-art facility for generations to come. It’s up to us to step up to the plate once again and get this built.”
“Because this is not a profit center for the hospital, we are relying on philanthropy to make this project a reality. The Hortons’ seed contribution of $2 million laid the groundwork. Now, as a community, we must raise $5 million of the $9.5 million in construction costs,” said Herlache.
To make a gift of any size, go to dcmedical.org/giving.