By Julie Workman
It was Thanksgiving Day, 2020. Eight months into the global pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus, it was the beginning of one of the most challenging holiday seasons that our generation has ever known.
Heritage Health’s staff was now known as “essential workers.” They were there that holiday: performing all their usual tasks, completing mountains of new paperwork, and comforting the residents who were quarantined at the facility instead of spending time with their families.
“The 2020 holiday season was one of the toughest times for our residents,” says Colette Gourley, Director of Community Relations & Census Development for Heritage Operations Group. “The news was all COVID, all the time. Families couldn’t come and visit; our residents couldn’t go out, everyone had to wear masks, residents had to take meals alone in their rooms; it was tough.”
The staff at Heritage Health managed to turn those extraordinary challenges into a chance to shine. There were many references to the ‘essential’ front-line healthcare workers, but most people didn’t get a chance to see just how dedicated they could be. Their residents did.
“Employees sacrificed spending holidays with their own families in order to help residents feel connected and safe. They baked cupcakes for residents’ birthdays and set up video calls so residents could “see” their families. Our employees stepped up like never before,” recalls Gourley.
Heritage Operations Group owns and operates more than 50 facilities and communities across Illinois offering a range of healthcare and residential services to seniors from skilled nursing to independent living with supportive/assisted living in between. It started as (and remains) a family-owned business committed to the senior population and the communities it serves. Second-generation members of the founders’ families still serve in leadership positions. Their continued involvement is a pledge to residents and their families that Heritage Operations Group remains dedicated to providing first-rate, compassionate care for seniors.
Heritage opened Bloomington’s very first nursing home in 1963. Heritage Health – Bloomington has a well-deserved, top reputation not only for providing excellent skilled nursing care but also as a premiere inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation facility, offering RESTORE Therapy (physical, occupational, and speech) in over 2,500 square feet of dedicated space. Led by long-time physical therapist, Zeus Villanueva, the rehab team at Heritage Health – Bloomington has helped thousands of patients and residents recover from surgery, accidents, strokes, and injuries.
Heritage Health – Normal sits on a campus of a continuum of care services with independent living units at Adelaide Apartments and assisted living apartments at Evergreen Place. There is also a dedicated memory care unit within the skilled nursing facility called Legacy Care. Similar to the Bloomington location, the residents and outpatients from across the community also enjoy full service, updated rehabilitation services from the team of therapists at the Normal location, led by physical therapist, Noel Gerongay. “All the common areas and the resident rooms at Heritage Health – Normal were updated within the past few years with new paint, new furniture and new carpeting,” Gourley explains. The building shows well and family members feel good when they visit their loved ones. Updates also included private Restore Therapy Suites and a Restore Therapy dining room for the exclusive use of short-term rehab patients. More recently, Heritage Health – Normal, has welcomed a new Administrator, Allen Hood.
Hood grew up in Peoria and came to Heritage because of his love for health care management. He started working in dining services in nursing homes when he was 17 years old and has stayed in healthcare since. “I am thrilled to be part of Heritage Operations Group,” Hood says. “They have a stellar reputation in the industry and have shown such resilience during the pandemic. This is an exciting time to be here, and the management team and staff are truly committed to the mission of the company and work very diligently towards providing quality care to our residents.”
Despite Hood’s enthusiasm and positive outlook, it is a fact that skilled nursing facilities are one of the single most regulated industries in the state of Illinois. All Heritage facilities and communities added new COVID processes while delivering uninterrupted, exceptional care to their residents and experiencing reduced staffing during the pandemic. “We also dealt with conflicting regulatory requirements from multiple government agencies,” Gourley stated. After the first few weeks of trying to keep up with ever-changing rules and requirements, their COVID Task Force and the Heritage leadership followed the strictest rules to ensure as much control as possible over increasing positive COVID test results in both residents and employees.
Right now, there is some relief from the pandemic but as new variants of COVID emerge, Heritage must stay vigilant. Many of the changes instituted in those dark days have become part of the everyday operation at Heritage facilities and communities.
- Each facility has a designated Infection Preventionist
- Specialized disinfection processes are in place
- The staff has specific training in hand hygiene
- Kitchens are inspected quarterly by county health departments and monthly by in-house dietitians
- Virtual visitation is still offered, facilitated by the staff if residents need technical help
“There is still much reluctance to move a loved one into a skilled nursing facility thanks to COVID. Whether the need is for short-term rehab or long-term nursing care, it is such an important decision. It is best to discuss preferences and options before the need arises and that is why we offer free senior care information consultations,” Gourley says.
“Of the many things that set us apart, people are usually surprised to learn that we serve as a complete senior care information resource,” Gourley says. “We understand that securing quality care for your loved one is an important decision. We want to help you make the best choice for you and your unique family situation.”
To that end, their helpful and professional Community Relations Coordinator will be happy to set up a time to talk and help you understand your senior care options, including:
- How to work with Medicare and Medicaid
- Connecting you with the doctors and hospitals you need
- Offering free, personalized tours of our facilities
- Evaluating your specific needs to help you select the right level of care:
• Independent Living
• Assisted Living
• 24-hour Skilled Care
• Short-term rehabilitation
- Offering referrals to the best care facility for you, even if it isn’t one of theirs
Many patients know that they’ll need short-term rehab services after a knee or hip replacement. They can pre-register for a stay at Heritage Health in Bloomington or Normal—most people don’t think about a rehab facility or skilled care services until they are in need.
The reviews for Heritage Health in both Bloomington and Normal tout everything from the “clean private rooms” to the “caring, friendly staff” and “excellent physical and occupational therapists.” Both facilities are recognized as Preferred Providers for Carle BroMenn Medical Center and OSF St. Joseph Medical Center.
“We appreciate the great reviews,” Gourley says, “But none of that would be possible without the contributions of our specially trained, highly dedicated, caring staff. We make every effort to hire qualified people who reflect the diversity of our community at large and our residents in particular.”
Like nearly every health care provider, staffing levels have been a special challenge in recent months and have fluctuated since the beginning of the pandemic. “At the height of the pandemic, if an employee tested positive, we had to send them—and anyone with whom they have had close contact—home to quarantine for 14 days. They were our healthcare heroes because even after recovering from the virus, they returned healthy and strong to continue caring for the residents.”
Heritage Health – Bloomington and Heritage Health – Normal offer all the best in modern healthcare living for seniors. From independent living options to assisted living to their 24-hour skilled care facility with a dedicated memory care unit, the Community Relations Coordinator for Heritage Health stands ready to answer your questions. With over 60 years of experience and 50 locations, their network provides a deep bench with experts who can access all available resources to help you meet your loved ones’ needs.
If you have questions about any of the services provided by Heritage Health or its affiliated services in Bloomington or Normal, please call (309) 827-8004 for information for Heritage Health Bloomington or (309) 452-7468 for information for Heritage Health Normal and the Legacy Memory Care. You may also visit their website for details on their Heritage family of facilities or any employment opportunities: www.HeritageOfCare.com.