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Last June, after months of discussions with my mother, brothers, and doctors, and several emotional visits to local assisted living centers, I vividly remember signing the contract to move my mother to Bella Vista.  As tears streamed down my face, I told (Health Services Director) Barbara Oranski, “I never knew a wonderful place like Bella Vista even existed!”

Here it is, one year later, and I can honestly say that Bella Vista – wonderful Bella Vista – has far exceeded all my expectations.  To say that the Bella Vista staff is caring, competent, sensitive, respectful, and delightful to work with is a severe understatement.  And that extends to Bella Vista’s management and owners as well.  There is no other place like Bella Vista, at least that I’m aware of.

My father died in 2007 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s.  To put it succinctly, I have first-hand experience with less-than-ideal care for Alzheimer’s patients.  The emotional, physical, and financial impact on both the patient and family members can be devastating.

Long ago, my parents and I agreed that if it ever got too difficult for me to manage their affairs from afar (they lived in rural New York State), they would move out to Colorado to be closer to me.  So, when my mother was diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) a few years ago, I knew that for both my mother’s and my own well-being, I needed to be pro-active on finding arrangements that would work for both of us.  For the first few years after her diagnosis, at the encouragement of her doctor, Mom gave up driving but continued to live in her home in New York State.  An aide service visited her for a few hours every day, and Mom was very happy.

Then disaster struck.  In the middle of the night, two days before Thanksgiving, Mom slipped and fell down the stairs, severely breaking her neck.  My brothers and I spent the next week holed up in the hospital’s intensive care with Mom while my husband and kids celebrated Thanksgiving back in Colorado without me.  The entire holiday season changed from being a sentimental celebration of the last year our daughter (who was a senior in high school) was going to be living with us at home into a stressful, tear-filled ordeal, as I arranged post-hospital 24×7 care (Mom was too fragile to be moved any distance), and my brothers and I took turns visiting Mom to keep her spirits up.

As Mom recovered, we saw some indications that her cognitive abilities had declined a bit and consulted her geriatric psychiatrist.  The psychiatrist recommended Mom move into an assisted living before the situation dissolved into another crisis, so we started looking right away.  The Academy was one of the places she recommended.

Well, it didn’t take many visits to places to conclude that the Academy and in particular, Bella Vista, were really different.  In fact, I told my husband, “We should put our names on the waiting list NOW!”

Mom liked Bella Vista’s smaller, natural and home-like setting more than the Academy.  And although I knew Mom was “operating at a higher level” than some of the other Bella Vista residents at the time, I also felt it was a good fit for Mom.  I also felt Bella Vista would be a huge improvement over her current situation back in New York State for several reasons:

So, here it is, almost one year later, and I can honestly say we are all doing well.  Mom frequently comments to me how much she appreciates that the staff “doesn’t hover” over her, and how good the food is.  She participates in nearly all the activities that Bella Vista has to offer (including joint Bella Vista/Academy activities).  The staff adores her.  She’s upbeat, laughs frequently, and beats everyone at crossword puzzles and other word games.  She is now back to her previous healthy weight and no longer needs nutritional supplements.  She enjoys sitting out on her private patio reading the New York Times, doing artwork and listening to in-house concerts with the rest of the residents, and going on little walks with the staff.

From my perspective, I can sum it up in a few words: I have my life back.  I see Mom frequently, but it’s on my terms, when it’s convenient for me.  Oftentimes, I do spur of the moment things with Mom, calling up Bella Vista about 10-15 minutes before I arrive to take Mom out on a walk or to lunch or dinner with my family, for a day of gardening, or to my son’s school events.  We go to concerts together, and sometimes Mom stays at our house for a day or two, and the staff makes sure she’s dressed appropriately and has her bag and medications all packed for me.  Mom’s medical care is now a piece of cake: she sees doctors I know and trust, at times that are convenient for me to take her, and I get to consult with them in person about her care.  And in those times when my family life inevitably gets too busy, I don’t have any “guilt trips” about not seeing or checking in on Mom, because I know she’s content and in good, capable hands.

As I face Mom’s eventual decline, I take great comfort in knowing that Mom is in the very best place she could be, is enjoying life to the fullest, in a gentle place where she is loved, treated with respect and empathy and is well-cared for.

Even after all I’ve said so far, I don’t think I’ve gone far enough to accurately describe how wonderful a place Bella Vista is, so I’m going to tell a little story that happened a few months ago:

I got a call one day from Glen, one of the nighttime BV staff members, telling me that he noticed that Mom had a poster of the famous violinist, Hillary Hahn in her room, and knew that Mom loved her music.  He had just read in the paper that Hillary Hahn was going to be giving a concert in Boulder the following month and wanted to let me know in case I wanted to get tickets and arrange for Mom to go to the concert.  Well, I purchased them right away.  Two weeks later, I got another call from daytime BV staff member, alerting me to the upcoming concert – I told her that I’d already gotten tickets.  A week later, I received yet another call from BV’s activities director, telling me that the Academy had just gotten some group tickets and asking whether she should reserve a spot for Mom!!

Need I say more??   (Oh, and yes, the Hillary Hahn concert was FABULOUS!)


Tracey Bernett