Taking care of 'family'

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By April M. Brown

Tucked away on the edge of town, Sombrillo Retirement Community and Aspen Ridge Lodge, collectively referred to as Los Alamos Retirement Community, are two local treasures that provide vital services to the elderly, special needs and disabled residents in Los Alamos. The facilities are essentially their own community, with the sole purpose of providing residents the best quality of life and care possible, regardless of their situation.
During a recent interview with the Los Alamos Monitor, their staff gathered to explain their dedication to the future of the facility and the passion they have for the work they do there. Executive Director Robert McDonald shared that with all of the new changes in healthcare, they have had to become more creative in how they utilize their resources, including their employees.
Many of their staff is certified in multiple areas and cross-trained to provide more efficiency. Unlike most retirement communities, LPNs and RNs are available not just during the daytime, but around the clock. The nurses all boast years of experience, with a few that have been with the facility since its inception, nearly 30 years ago.
Director of Nursing Joanna Dominquez shared that when new residents arrive at the facility, she tells them that Sombrillo is their mansion and the staff are their servants; something she feels honored to be a part of. She explained that the entire staff spends their workdays dedicated to the health and happiness of their residents, who they consider a part of their family.
The feeling of family is most evident in the many stories the staff shared. Stories of weddings, special dances and spending time with residents in their final moments, brought both tears and smiles to their faces. They all took great pride in going above and beyond in providing comfort to their family, especially when they needed it the most.
The staff refers to the facility as all inclusive, due to the wide spectrum of services that they offer. Sombrillo boasts a large formal dining room, providing gourmet menu options three times a day; and several café style gathering areas stocked with tea, coffee, hot chocolate and snacks. They offer a variety of activities and events, including exercise classes, music, dancing, crafts, movies, cards and puzzles. They hold birthday parties, ice cream socials, happy hour and even proms. Hair and nail stylists make regular visits.
The facility offers residents the option of a canyon view apartments, laundry facilities, libraries, access to local trails and access to multiple common areas full of natural sunlight for social gatherings. They even offer a suite for visiting family members and private dining room space for special occasion; and they allow well behaved pets.
Aspen Ridge, directly adjacent to Sombrillo, offers state-of-the-art medical facilities and services for those who are recovering from medical trauma, or issues requiring rehabilitation services and constant care.
They offer onsite physical therapy from their team of highly skilled therapists who work with patients on everything from re-learning daily skills such as washing dishes and doing laundry, to speech therapy and basic motor skills. Aspen Ridge also offers a host of programs and activities to keep residents busy, many of which are provided through the efforts of volunteers. Both Sombrillo and Aspen Ridge have secured facilities for those who are suffering from memory related issues such as Alzheimer’s.
The staff shared that they have made improvements to both facilities with the aid of HUD financing, fundraising events and United Way grants. They recently put these funds to good use, updating shower rooms inside of Aspen Ridge with new tile and equipment; and acquiring new furnishing and updating Sombrillo’s central court area. The next phase of facility improvements is about to kick-off with updates to the dining room and lobbies of Sombrillo; and continued upgrades to the flooring inside of Aspen Ridge.
As the staff shared their final stories, it was easy to recognize what this place such a special part of the community.
They also helped dispel the myth that retirement homes are places of dread where no one wants to end up when they get older.
Sombrillo provides a service to the community by taking care of the elderly and giving them the respect they deserve.