Walk into the Noble Health Care Center between now and December 25 and there is no mistaking what time of year it is. Visitors walk down a hallway flanked by a giant inflatable Santa Clause before entering a lobby that is adorned by not one, but three different Christmas trees. Holiday decorations– snowflakes, wreathes, and ornaments – are everywhere. Around a half dozen residents are being led in Christmas and holiday-themed songs in a recreation room, some wearing Santa hats. It’s freezing outside, but there is a warm and festive atmosphere in this long-term care facility, home to approximately 80 seniors and individuals with disabilities who rely on around-the-clock assistance and care.
Anna Diaz has been the Administrator at Noble Health Care Center for 24 years, and she says the staff works especially hard to make sure the residents feel at-home and happy during the holidays. The facility’s holiday celebrations include musical acts, a giant potluck dinner, and a visit from Santa Clause. During the annual Christmas party, the facility is packed with visitors coming to spend time with their loved ones. For those residents that don’t get visitors, the staff goes out of their way to make sure they receive a gift. “For some of the people here, we are their family. We want them to know we feel the same way about them,” she says.
It’s that family atmosphere that Anna says makes Noble Health Care so special and keeps the staff working to deliver the best experience possible for their residents. That’s a year-round endeavor and the result of a lot of hard work: in addition to regular entertainment acts, bingo games and other activities, the facility and its vendors sponsor a yearly “Noble Health Care Center Day” event in July that includes carnival games, live music, Indian tacos, and even a real horse. “One resident said they had never touched a horse in their life before they got to our facility,” Anna said.
As one might imagine, working at a nursing home is not all fun and games. Certified Nursing Aides (CNAs) spend most of their time providing “Daily Living Care,” which includes helping residents (especially those who are very frail or infirm) to bathe, dress, use the bathroom, eat and navigate the facility. Some of those CNAs have been at the facility for nearly as long as Anna, long enough to forge real friendships with the residents and to be devastated when they pass away.
Anna says those friendships are the most rewarding – and also the most challenging – part of the job. Her walls are covered with pictures of residents she counted as friends, some of whom are no longer alive. One of them is Clarence, a former resident with Down Syndrome who formed deep bonds with Anna and other staff-members. Anna remembers the staff taking Clarence to the State Fair and buying him toys. Later, on hospice, they arranged to take him to see a Beatles cover band (“He was spoiled rotten,” she says).
Clarence is no longer with us, but it’s clear his memory is. When Anna’s cell phone rings with a work call, a picture of him pops up.
“He changed all our lives,” Anna says.
Today, Anna and her staff are working to change lives, to brighten days, and to create the best possible home they can for their residents. “We are one big family,” she says, “and that’s the attitude we take to work with us every day.”