March 30, 2020
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Birch Bay wins Dementia Care Award

Community Author: Susanne Hopkins
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Birch Bay Retirement Village | Contributed
Birch Bay Retirement Village | Contributed
Birch Bay wins Dementia Care Award.

BAR HARBOR — Birch Bay Retirement Village has received the 2019 Standing Ovation Award, sponsored by Leading Age Maine and New Hampshire, for Excellence in Dementia Care. This award was presented to non-profit senior service organizations and long term care providers who embody excellence in leadership, care and service innovation.

At its annual conference on April 10 and 11, Leading Age Executive Director Lisa Henderson presented the award to Executive Director Peter Sullivan and Marketing Director Susanne Hopkins.

As the only nonprofit senior living provider on Mount Desert Island and now the only dementia care and adult day provider, Birch Bay Retirement Village seeks to be a hub of dementia resources for residents, families and the community in the Downeast Region.  Their primary goal: overcome the stigma of dementia that sends potent messages of “You can’t,” or “You shouldn’t.” 

Says Executive Director, Peter Sullivan, “It’s getting people to understand that you don’t have to stop living.”

The old philosophy of dementia care was to re-orient people with the disease and bring them back into “our reality.” Instead, Birch Bay’s life enrichment philosophy is to engage residents and help them thrive. Their programming encompasses all realms of life — physical, natural, spiritual, mental and daily living. It is a resident focused, resident-driven environment where the goal is to say “yes.” 

Birch Bay’s commitment to execute this level of person-directed care philosophy is embraced through extensive staff training. All staff at Birch Bay, from maintenance to dietary, learn best practices for relating to, connecting with, redirecting and supporting memory care residents. A board-certified neurological Music Therapist also provides group and individual therapy using music as a tool to stimulate parts of the brain and enhance language skills.

Sullivan thanked his staff personally during a special reception on April 12.

Peter explained that he wanted staff to know that he recognizes that the people who have actually done the work needed to receive the award are the front line staff.

“It’s not just that you are just cleaning rooms, that you are feeding someone, or just fixing a door. What’s really important about Birch Bay and what makes us stand out to win this award is what each of you bring with you to work every day. Your care, compassion and bringing your special gifts. Each one is bringing something that only you can bring to the table. I know it’s not me. The leadership does not matter- it’s about the care. This is really your award.”

Peter then began to call our staff members individually for their contributions.

“Sallie always makes sure that each resident has his or hair just right, is dressed just right. Just the way he or she would want. Other facilities do not do that; they get people dressed- dressed is dressed. That’s not Birch Bay. That’s not you. You know the people we work with; you care about the people we work with.”

In addition to their own residents, Birch Bay is deeply committed to their broader community. Peter, in particular, devotes countless hours to community outreach and education.  Birch Bay Retirement Village is a member of the Mount Desert Island Hospital Organization, a non-profit health care provider for residents of rural Downeast Maine. Peter hosts frequent trainings for medical staff with the goal of improving support for individuals and families experiencing a dementia diagnosis.  Thanks to Peter’s efforts, clinicians are becoming less reluctant to identify patients with dementia out of a feeling of helplessness. Traditionally, physicians rushed to preparations for end-stage dementia. With better education, they are now more likely to recognize the progression of the disease and remember that a person can still be very capable and autonomous. They are also more aware of, and appreciate, the needs of the family caregiver.

Birch Bay also supports families. They offer a caregiver support group for members of the community, including people from the island not affiliated with Birch Bay or otherwise using their supports.  They teach an adult education course on basic dementia and wellness education, including an exploration of what is normal aging vs. what could be a dementia as well as evidence-based practices to preserve or waylay decreases in cognitive function.  They host community events like resident art shows which offer non-threatening opportunities to discuss dementia.

Sullivan summarizes Birch Bay’s resolve this way: “We focus on people more than their disease. When you shift that focus, care gets a lot better. Quality of life gets a lot better.”