By Alexander Germanis
It has long been philosophized as to what exactly constitutes a home. It is not simply a place where one sleeps and keeps one’s possessions, for it is far more than that. Instead, a home is as much a feeling as it is a location. It is a place of family, of warmth, love, and acceptance, where one can find solace, peace, help, and understanding.
That almost indescribable feeling of home is what the Pettett family has striven to grow and nurture ever since 1993, when Sherry Pettett established Country Comfort Retirement Homes (CCRH) in Henry, Illinois.
A rehabilitation nurse by profession, Sherry had worked for years in various retirement facilities in the area, developing a passion to help our senior citizens. Wanting to provide a space where seniors could continue to thrive, she set out to build not just another assisted living and memory care facility but rather a place senior citizens could truly call home.
Family is everything
One of the most vital components of a home is family. Sherry Pettett understood that from the start, which is why Country Comfort Retirement Homes is, at its heart, a family business.
Sherry’s sons, Brandon and Drew, joined their mother in 2009 and 2015 respectively. Both with degrees in business administration, they instantly sought out to help build on what their mother’s passion had already established.
A year after Drew joined the family business, his wife, Jennie, was added to the staff as the community outreach director. “Growing up with a mother that is passionate about seniors meant it was easy for Brandon and Drew to share in that passion and to want to be involved in the family business,” Jennie explains. “It is special to keep the legacy of CCRH going.”
The inclusion of the Pettett brothers opened up the opportunity for Sherry to focus solely on the quality of care CCRH provides to its residents, one of which is Sherry’s own mother. “It is her passion for the elderly that drives everything we do,” Jennie says.
That passion is infectious, as Jennie will attest. “For me,” she shares, “joining the family business was about being part of a team and family that allowed me to make a difference in people’s lives. It is easy to share in something that is so special!”
Also sharing in the passion to serve are Michele Gillespie, CCRH general manager, and Missy Vanderpool, manager of the Princeton location. Not only do they ensure the homes are functioning effectively, they are also the go-to people for both staff and residents. Furthermore, Missy runs the training program for new members of the CCRH family.
The Pettetts hope being a part of their family means also being, in some way, an extension of their residents’ families as well. “We stay in touch with the families of our residents through care plan meetings and regular communication, allowing us to really get to know both our residents and their families,” Jennie says. “Our staff goes above and beyond to create bonds and relationships, so it becomes natural to answer a question for a resident or help them relive a memory because they are our memories too! These relationships last for generations.”
Better ratios equal better care
For nearly 25 years, Country Comfort has proven bigger does not always mean better. Maintaining facilities first in Henry and later in Princeton and Elmwood, the Pettett family goal has always been to keep the sizes of their respective locations small. With smaller senior facility sizes, there is a much better staff-to-resident ratio. This means the staff are not stretched too thin taking care of countless residents, which, in turn, means more attention can be paid to each resident.
“Whenever I need something or need help, the girls take care of me,” shares Pat, a resident at the CCRH Elmwood home. “There has never been a time when I didn’t feel taken care of or loved.”
That personal attention can be given because each CCRH location is staffed at all times by certified nurse assistants and registered or licensed practical nurses. During most hours the staff-to-resident ratio is one to four when the home is at maximum capacity. “The ratio of staff to residents allows for Country Comfort to provide care for its residents on an individualized basis,” Jennie explains. “The staff is able to spend more personal time with the residents and allow them to have time to promote resident independence in activities of daily living.”
“Our size goes hand-in-hand with everything we do,” she continues, “which I think is something that does set us apart. Only housing 12 to 16 residents at each of the three homes allows for an environment where seniors are not a number, they are home!”
That environment is partially established by both being pet-friendly and having the kitchen at the heart of every Country Comfort home. There, residents can engage in the comfort of cooking.
Every degree of care
Country Comfort is not just a full-time home for people. It also serves as a safe haven for those who just need a temporary home away from home by providing senior day care services. “This program is a good way to give an everyday caregiver, such as a spouse or child, a break,” Jennie says. “Day care clients may visit us weekly, daily, or even hourly depending on the need. While at CCRH, clients will receive meals, activities, ADL (activities of daily living) assistance, and supervision, just as our permanent residents do. Clients may schedule their visits, or they can come on a last-minute emergency basis.”
From hourly and daily care, the level of attention at CCRH ranges from assisted living to their “Safe Haven” Alzheimer’s Special Care facility. “We do well with the adjustment period for dementia care,” says Jennie, “working with behaviors and getting residents to a place of comfort.” Part of establishing that sense of comfort comes, once again, from family. Surrounding these residents with personal effects and involving family members in their care is vital to their continued quality of life.
At CCRH, as much care as possible is administered through a holistic approach. “We use natural oils as opposed to medication to treat simple ailments and behaviors,” Jennie points out. “This holistic approach, combined with one-on-one interaction between staff and residents during times of increased care needs, goes hand-in-hand with the natural home setting we provide. Essential oils allow us to offer an alternative over pharmaceuticals, allowing seniors to live in an environment that truly supports their independence and wellbeing.”
Sharing the suffering and joy
Anyone with a loved one who suffers from Alzheimer’s knows it is an extremely difficult ailment to deal with or live with. Family does not abandon family, especially in times of dire need.
Founder Sherry Pettett recalls one particular instance in which a tragic case of Alzheimer’s brought the staff, resident, and resident’s family together. With a rapidly declining condition, the resident was in CCRH’s hospice care unit. “Her husband came every day,” she shares. “It was such a hard thing to see the family go through losing their mom to Alzheimer’s at the age of 70. They put her in our care and we were with them every day. We would stay with the family at her bedside, holding hands, crying together. I remember staying overnight with the them, making sure they were comfortable with food, drink, sleep arrangements, whatever they needed.”
Through such experiences, sympathy evolves into the much stronger form of understanding known as empathy. Sherry is grateful for that special time. “It is hard to put into words what you feel when you are there for a family while they are losing someone,” she says. “You go through the emotions with them because you feel so close to them and you feel like you are losing one of your own. Some of the staff still stays in touch with that family. Our end-of-life care is really special.”
Thankfully, not all stories have such sad endings. The managers and staff at CCRH have many stories of lasting joy — instances of making lasting connections, aiding in a resident’s successful recovery and, best of all, witnessing a resident live a long life.
Another home in the community
Although it is easy to think of seniors homes as communities cut off from the rest of the world, that is certainly not the case. Each location of Country Comfort Retirement Homes remains very involved in its respective community. “We participate in community events whenever possible,” Jennie shares. “Parades, festivals, Chamber After Hours, etc. We try to give back as much as possible by having bake sales, first responder appreciation days, participating in the Alzheimer’s Association walk and more.”
“We are lucky because in each community we are greatly supported by our families, local churches, and community groups,” she continues. “They come out to play games, do crafts, bring snacks, quilts. You name it, our communities have done it for our residents.”
It is easy for those at CCRH to remain an integral part of the community and to still feel at home, because at Country Comfort Retirement Homes, that is where they are: home.
“My mother-in-law started this company on the values of providing quality care in a loving and nurturing home environment,” Jennie concludes. “That hasn’t changed. Knowing we are able to make the last years in someone’s life mean something through promoting independence is a great feeling. Emotionally, we are connecting to our residents and residents’ families because, to us, they are family. We want everyone to feel that they matter and are loved.”
For more information about Country Comfort Retirement Homes, please contact Vice-President Brandon Pettett at 309-264-4690 or Community Outreach Director Jennie Pettett at 309-339-5794.