An idea that has been blooming in Nicole Donaldson’s mind for years became a reality this week.
Donaldson welcomed her first dementia patient into Open Hearts, the only private adult day care facility in the West Shore and one of the few in the region, but not before hosting an open house Tuesday to show her neighbours and supporters the three-bedroom house she renovated for her business.
“I’m so proud of it, this has been a long time in the making,” Donaldson said, beaming.
The licensed practical nurse, who’s worked with dementia patients for 33 years, began dreaming up Open Hearts eight years ago when she noticed that cutbacks to intermediate care in hospitals was leaving fewer options for families affected by dementia or Alzheimer’s.
“Children and siblings are turning into caregivers for aging family members. If their loved one has dementia, and needs 24-hour supervision, they can get burned out fast,” Donaldson said.
She bought the Colwood home at 647 Kelly Rd. two years ago, and worked with Colwood to create a new zoning category and bylaws to regulate the unique facility, modeling them after what it allows for children’s day cares.
The home needed to be completely overhauled to meet the commercial building code, which prevented the facility opening in September as originally slated. Donaldson had to redo the electrical, expand the septic system, reinforce floors and ceilings and put in a fire sprinkler system before opening for business.
But with that behind her, Donaldson is looking forward to playtime with her clients.
Standing in Open Hearts’ main activity room, she envisions clients enjoying unstructured time, perhaps baking cookies or sitting at the window with a view of Herm Williams Park across the street.
“It’s simple things people with dementia enjoy,” she said. “Maybe they just get up and just walk across the room to sit in a different chair, or maybe they want to do some exercises here. We’re not going to restrict them.”
There’s a quiet sitting room with a television and a fenced backyard with an edible garden for clients to dig their hands into or just wonder through. The home’s garage was turned into a private bathing room, which will soon be equipped a jet tub designed for elders with restricted mobility.
“It’s the Lamborghini of bath tubs. I’ll be the first one to use it,” Donaldson laughed.
Open Hearts is permitted to care for 10 adults at a time. Until she builds her client base, Donaldson is running it solo, aside from help from her mother answering phones. She has two staff, an activity aide and a health care aid, on board to start work when they’re needed and has other on-call staff lined up for busy times.
Donaldson expects her service to compliment what is offered in facilities operated by the Vancouver Island Health Authority, such as the publically-funded day programs and bathing offered to seniors at the Priory Hospital in Langford.
“We’re a flexible service, after we’ve screened a client, their caregiver could call us in the morning and drop them off that same day,” Donaldson said.
If Open Hearts is successful, Donaldson hopes to eventually open locations in Langford and Sooke.
“With aging populations, the demand is just going to grow and grow,” she said. “I’d like this to be seen as a pilot project for people who want to open similar day cares across the country.”
Colwood Mayor Dave Saunders said he’s as excited as Donaldson to see the facility open.
“This is huge for the community; it’s really going to help a lot of families,” he said. “We’re lucky to have this in Colwood.”