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Trails, music, child care, coffee shop added at Rocky Knoll

THE ROCKY KNOLL CAMPUS, seen from above on October 20. — Photo by Tammy Barrow

The high marks Rocky Knoll Health Care Center earned on its annual state Health Inspection and Life Safety Surveys in October reveal only part of the picture of what’s currently happening at the 149-bed, county-owned skilled nursing home off State Highway 67 in Plymouth, near Elkhart Lake.

New and somewhat surprising amenities recently added and in the works, which benefit residents, staff and the surrounding community as well, illustrate how Rocky Knoll is striving to do more than just deliver quality nursing care.

“I am pleased to share that Kayla (Clinton, who runs the facility) and her team just had their annual State Survey at Rocky Knoll, and we maintained our five-star rating. In fact, it was one of the best overall State Survey results we have received in years,” Sheboygan County Administrator Adam Payne told the County Board at its last meeting. Rocky Knoll is one of only two nursing homes in the County to have earned a five-star rating, the highest given by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Improvements made this year alone include almost one mile of paved, wheelchair-accessible nature and walking path for residents and a nearly five-mile hiking and mountain biking trail, open to all, that winds through the woods around the facility. A free summer music series, held in the facility’s popular outdoor bistro area, and other entertainment attract increasing numbers of visitors. Next year, Rocky Knoll will add both a child-care center and café/coffee shop. And thanks to a $1.5 million Community Development Block Grant from the State of Wisconsin, many other renovations will also occur over the next two years, including new flooring, sinks and other resident room and kitchen upgrades.

“One of our biggest initiatives right now is that in partnership with Growing Generations in Plymouth, we will be offering childcare in 2020,” said Rocky Knoll Administrator Kayla Clinton. “We are pursuing this to meet a community need and to recruit and retain certified nursing assistants. Onsite childcare will also provide intergenerational programming that will directly benefit and enrich the lives of our residents.”

Work will begin this winter or early spring to create a space that will accommodate up to eight infants and 15 children ages two to four.

Plans for the café are not as far along, but Clinton envisions an inviting space with the look and feel of a real restaurant – similar to the Take 5 Café at Kohler’s Sports Core – which will offer residents, visitors, volunteers, staff and workers from the Sheboygan County Transportation Complex as well as other employers nearby hot and cold beverages as well as soups, salads, sandwiches and other breakfast and lunch items.

There’s no disputing that as Rocky Knoll approaches its 100th anniversary, it’s a vastly different and more vibrant community than it was when it was founded in 1926 as a sanitarium for tuberculosis patients desperate for a cure in the decades before antibiotics changed the medical landscape.

The facility currently consists of three buildings and five nursing units: two units with a total of 59 beds for long-term residents with chronic disease, a 33-bed short-term rehabilitation unit for patients recovering from surgery, a 29-bed unit dedicated to mental health care and a 28-bed unit specializing in serving patients with memory loss and dementia. Nearly 200 employees staff all these areas.

The state survey Rocky Knoll recently performed so well on has two separate parts, one focusing on health-care delivery and the other on facilities. Rocky Knoll was issued only two citations from the Health Inspection Survey, while the average number of citations for skilled nursing homes statewide is six and nationwide is eight. Rocky Knoll also did well on this part of the survey last year, receiving three citations. On the Life Safety Survey, which looks at building issues, Rocky Knoll was issued just one citation this year, compared to 15 last year.

“One of the jokes we make is that we’re the second-highest most regulated industry next to nuclear power,” said Clinton, who explained that there are more than 800 pages of state and federal regulations with which she oversees compliance. She added that it is not unusual for any nursing home to face greater scrutiny and have more building citations some years than others, and said she credits her staff with meeting the challenge of correcting all of theirs.

The staff’s creative approach to achieving resident and staff well-being is obvious in ways large and small. For example, Joe Wright from the Maintenance Department recently pitched in to make a Halloween presentation to residents, sharing makeup and costuming skills gained from his experience performing as a monster at Sheboygan’s Dominion of Terror, while Life Enrichment Director Janine Bolz displayed some of her skeleton collection.

At 2 p.m. on Monday, November 11 – Veterans Day – 14 residents who served in the military will be honored at a special ceremony in the North Activity Room. Any resident at Rocky Knoll who is a veteran gets a plaque and photo on the Veterans Wall of Honor. The program will include songs by the Plymouth High School Chorus. Then at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 12, the Bella Musik duo will perform in the North Activity Room also. These are just two of a number of programs open to residents, family, friends and the general public in November and December.

“We have been successful because of our community partnerships and word of  mouth. Welcoming the public to our programs enables people to learn about our facility and gives residents more inter-generational interaction,” Clinton said.

The Rocky Knoll Foundation and Auxiliary as well as local churches, schools, merchants and musicians make many of the facility’s programs and amenities possible. The foundation, for example, conducted its own fundraising to cover the cost of the paved walking path, the Veterans Wall of Honor and the outdoor music program.

The new childcare center, at a cost of $118,000, is being funded through the county’s five-year capital plan. A grant from the state’s Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program paid for the hiking and mountain biking trail. And the café funding is coming from a Medicaid Certified Public Expenditure payment, which is a form of reimbursing Rocky Knoll for having more patients on Medicaid than the federal program covers.

This patchwork of funding prevents local taxpayers from bearing the burden of much of the cost of these improvements.

But a lot of what the facility has achieved comes down not to dollars, but to simple caring. When more than a half-dozen staff members were asked to single out what is special about Rocky Knoll, nearly everyone mentioned the word “family.”

“We are a giant family of co-workers, patients, families and nurses, and we all care about each other,” said Amanda Burt, RN.

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