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Southfield Wellness makes major investment in facility and employees

February 25, 2009
By Lori Berglund — Daily Freeman-Journal Editor

Call it home-made economic stimulus. Southfield Wellness Community in Webster City simply calls it doing the right thing for its residents, tenants, employees, as well as the community itself.

Long before Congress passed the most recent stimulus package, Southfield Wellness Community was doing its part through the free enterprise system. The facility has made substantial investments in the infrastructure of the building this year, and has matched those physical investments near dollar for dollar with increased compensation for staff.

With the completion of 11 new assisted and independent living apartments last year, bringing the total to 25, the emphasis this year has been on the nursing home side of Southfield.

Article Photos

Southfield Wellness Community Eric Halverson and Marketing Director Marilyn Middleton relax in front of a new bay window typical of those installed in all patient rooms this year.

"Last year we decided to take a look at some of the environmental aspects of the facility, and what we could do that would not only enhance the appearance of the building, but what could we do for the residents, as some of the residents do spend a great deal of time in their rooms," said Administrator Eric Halverson.

He decided to look no further than the windows, which were original to both the first three wings of the nursing home constructed in 1973, as well as two additional wings added in 1988.

"They all needed work," Halverson said of the windows. "Even the windows in the '88 addition were definitely not holding up as well as the ones in the 1973 building did."

The windows lacked energy efficiency and were difficult, even for younger hands, to open.

"We decided to make the commitment and invest about $140,000 in new windows," he said.

But for Halverson, replacing the old windows with new windows of a similar type wasn't good enough. He wanted to change the look of the entire building, while also making a window selection that could do something for the quality of life of the residents.

"We put bay windows in every resident room," Halverson said. And not just any bay window. "They're double hung on each side; they can lift the bottom pane up or they can pull the top pane down."

And, in a facility where residents are concerned about drafts, that flexibility in opening either the top or bottom is a real benefit.

In addition, a larger center window is a casement window that cranks open. Halverson said this feature is also a safety factor, as it will allow for much easier evacuation in the event of an emergency.

For residents, the bay windows have made a real difference in the feel of their room.

"It makes the room look bigger, and it makes it look new," Halverson said.

Southfield Wellness Community also takes the environmental aspect one step further by allowing residents to choose paints and wall coverings for their individual rooms.

"About 90 percent of the building has some type of color or wallpaper in the resident room - of their choice. They pick from a selection of colors," Halverson explained.

Piping in with a women's perspective, Southfield Marketing Director Marilyn Middleton added that many residents love the bay windows because it allows them more decorating options. The large windows hold green plants, which further freshen the air, or can serve as an ideal area to put up greeting cards, family photos, or even small Christmas trees.

For his part, Halverson said Southfield was pleased to work with local contractors throughout the project.

"The great thing about this is we worked with Pagel Windows here in town to do the whole thing," Halverson said.

All the physical improvements to Southfield in the past year also served to prompt the question of what the facility could do for its employees.

"What are you going to do for your staff when they see you spending that kind of money environmentally?" Halverson said. "What are you going to do for the staff that shows the same commitment?"

He found the answer in the form of a $1 per hour, across-the-board, wage increase for each and every Southfield employee last August. That added about $10,000 to the monthly payroll at Southfield, which is $10,000 more in spending power being pumped into the local economy.

And when multiplied by 12 months in the year, Halverson said the $1 across the board hike just about matched the amount spent on the windows. To Halverson, it was a matter of telling employees that they are valued and appreciated.

What's more, the $1 per hour increase for all employees was on top of annual merit increases that employees may also receive.

But Halverson wasn't done yet.

"We also increased our starting wages," he said. A nurse's aid with no experience earns $11.25 per hour, which Halverson believes would top any list of area wage surveys for compatible jobs.

Still, Halverson said it's important that most people who choose this work do not do so for the money. It's a matter of caring for people that's most important at Southfield Wellness Community. One of the ways Southfield has reached out to residents and families in recent years is the formation of a Customer Service Committee.

Middleton coordinates the group, which meets about every month or every other month. The committee includes residents, families, and staff, in order to gain input from every perspective. Some of the ideas that come out of the committee are just simple things that can make a big difference in the quality of every day life.

For instance, Middleton said a concern was brought forth that residents were chilled after getting out of the warmth of a relaxing whirlpool tub. The answer was found in having warming blankets at the ready to avoid the chill and keep the resident relaxed and happy.

In the future, Halverson sees continued growth for Southfield Wellness Community. Recent years have seen the addition of Medicare Suites. These private rooms are available for short-term rehab, often for a person recovering from surgery and not quite yet ready to go home. The average stay in these rooms is just 24 to 28 days.

As the population ages, Halverson expects continued growth in both the Medicare Suite option, as well as the independent and assisted living apartments. There's room to grow and Southfield Wellness Community will continue to put the emphasis on "wellness" as staff members serve the needs of care and comfort for residents.

Contact Lori Berglund at



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