The Power of a Thank You

Let’s be honest, the senior care industry is not always the easiest. We get attached to our residents, which is heartbreaking when they are no longer with us. However, when a family acknowledges that our work makes a difference, the loss is worth it. We hear the saying, “Many hands make light work,” which is true in the senior care industry. With partnerships with Hospitals, Case Managers, Social Workers, Hospice, Homecare, and all of the staff, we can make the journey’s end peaceful and beautiful. Thank you!

Big Progress With Little Steps.

It amazes me how simple things can make big changes in a person’s life. Consistency can often be the magic formula for success in good health. I was reminded of this when I was in our Eagle Birch home. One of our residents, Rae, came to us a little over a year ago unable to bare weight on her legs and needed a mechanical lift for all transfers. Part of her decision to move into Geneva Suites was to benefit from the physical therapy we offer. Our physical therapy program includes working with, Dustin, our physical therapist. He. meets with the residents each week, and creates a daily exercise program that the residents practice with their care partners. Rae has worked hard to regain her mobility and with the support and encouragement of Dustin, she did it! Rae is now standing and working towards pivot transfers. By this spring she hopes to take her first walks outside in years.

All of us have goals that seem overwhelming to achieve. Hopefully, Rae’s story adds a little boost to your steps in attaining your goals.

How To Choose A Home For Seniors

5 checkpoints to find the right fit.

Finding the right fit senior home can feel overwhelming. That’s why I’ve developed a simple checklist to help you navigate this important decision.

1. What Makes You Happy?

Happiness plays a major role in health in the golden years. In choosing a senior home ask yourself, are you happier in private or in a crowd? Do you prefer group activities or just want alone time? Be sure opportunities for happiness is in the discussion of choices.

2. Know your health needs.

Not all homes have the same skills. For example memory care, post-stroke care and physical therapy are completely different skill sets. Be sure the place you choose has people with the skills you need for your specific health.

3. Small versus big.

Smaller, residential homes are a fit for people with higher physical and emotional care needs. Larger facilities are often a fit when the depth of care may not be as acute.

4. Stay close to family.

One of the most important factors in choosing a home for mom or dad is proximity to family. Even a one hour drive can take away length and frequency of family visits.

5. Stabilize your costs.

Some assisted living homes have variable costs based on care condition. What looks affordable on day one may become expensive over time, often with little improvement in care quality. Consider a fixed price cost model.

You have many options when it comes to senior care. I’d love to hear what your experience has been as you have learned about the various choices. Leave me a note below.

Small Steps

My professional love for seniors started in our home health care business. Through my work, I had the opportunity to meet CJ in 2015. CJ was 90 years young, still quite feisty and wanted to be active even though her body made that more and more difficult. She loved the feeling of weightlessness when swimming, however, she could not manage the locker room alone, due to pain in her shoulders and knees. After a brief consult, it was decided that our staff would help her maintain her independence by assisting her with outings to the pool and housework.  As the consult was finishing up, she showed me around her apartment. It was obvious that she was very proud of her Norwegian heritage, and the fact that she was a teacher for over 40 years. The sparkle in her blue eyes was present, and as I was packing up to go, she handed me a card. It was hand stamped and colored. “I’d like you to have this, “she said. “I make these to fill my time, and I really appreciate you coming today.” I was touched. When back at the office, I clipped the card on my bulletin board.

Fast forward a few years, I received a call. “Hi, you probably don’t remember my mom CJ, but she asked me to call you. She needs some help.” With a smile I answered, “Of course I remember CJ; she likes to make cards and swim.” That seemed to break the ice, and CJ’s daughter started to share all that was going on with her mom. Now in an assisted living facility, instead of her apartment, CJ’s health had begun to decline. The pain in her shoulders was more significant and chronic. Since she was weaker, she was wheelchair-bound, needed a Hoyer for transfers and could no longer wheel herself. “The place where mom is now is nice enough, just the staff forget about her a lot. She will wait in the dining room sometimes hours since she can’t get back to her room on her own. I think even though we are paying for her to be there, we need a caregiver to come and help her out again.” She discussed how often CJ’s pain meds would be given late and that it was hard to keep her comfortable.

“I’m so glad you called because I believe I may be able to help you with a better solution.” I shared all about The Geneva Suites. We discussed the beautiful environments and, more importantly, the unique personal care. Our model has three significant differentiators from other options: amazing care partner to resident ratios, chef-prepared meals, and physical therapy twice a week for our residents. “This sounds too good to be true; do you have time to show my mom and me around?” After the tour, the family decided to move forward.

On the move in day, I caught up with CJ in her room, already decorated with pictures of her children and grandkids. I recognized the painting of her cabin that had hung in her apartment years ago and her card making station. “It looks like you are settling in CJ,” I said, “We are excited to have you.” With a smile of delight in her eyes, she enthused “I’m ecstatic, and I can’t wait to start with PT. I want to be able to transfer on my own again.”

“Mom, we talked about this. You are 93 now and haven’t walked in over a year. Transferring and walking are probably not going to happen.” Seeing the disappointment on CJ’s face, I interjected. “Let’s see what Carol our PT says.  If you want to work, I know Carol will work with you.” With a quick nod and a smug smile, CJ said: “Yes, let’s see.”

In the coming weeks and months that CJ lived in our home, she did work hard with Carol and was an inspiration. She went from not able to transfer at all and needing a Hoyer, to moving with an assist of one. She improved from not able to bare weight on her legs to be able to stand and take a few steps. One afternoon while CJ was working with Carol, another resident commented, “I’m really proud of you.” This resident was not one to talk much and often isolated due to his clinical depression. “You are an inspiration to me.”

CJ was a little embarrassed, “It’s just a small step,” she said as she wiped the perspiration off her lip. “But it was a big step for you,” he said and went back to reading the paper. Both Carol and I looked at each other in a little shock. The brief interaction was profound on so many levels. The tenacity that CJ showed paid off, and it was spreading throughout the house.

As Carol was leaving the house to head to the next, she pulled me aside. “You know CJ and all the progress she is making doesn’t normally happen. Seniors don’t usually get the opportunity to have slow progress without PT being stopped. It is so cool what we get to do every day.” I couldn’t agree more, the opportunity together with the determination was a brilliant success.

Let me know what you think!  Warmly yours ~ Marlena

Making an Impact

Last spring, I received a voicemail from CW, a man who was in desperate need of help for his friend, Gail. When I returned the call, I learned that she had stage four ovarian cancer, had taken a sudden turn for the worse and could no longer care for herself. I could hear the despair in his voice and was hoping I would be able to help. I asked if he would like to set up a time for a tour to see if our home would be a good fit for his friend. “Actually, could you come and visit us at her condo? She wants to be part of the decision,” he said.

Going to a potential resident’s home, to see who they were before they needed our care, does not happen very often. When I arrived, sweet Gail was in a hospital bed in the middle of the living room, where furniture had been moved and stacked to make space. The coffee table was full of medications and folders about hospice care. Also, a commode stood within the circle of reach of the bed. As I scanned the room, I noted a typical home of an adventurous middle-aged gal. Great, high-heeled shoes were lined up by the door, below purses hanging on the hook of the entry closet. There were pictures on the wall of a vibrant lady with picturesque landscapes behind her from all over the world. On top of her china hutch were racing helmets, and inside were trophies, racing numbers, and pictures of Gail full of joy holding trophies next to her motorcycle. It was hard to believe that the photographs were of the same gal who lay there looking weak and scared.

“Hi Gail, thank you for inviting me into your home. How may I help you today?” With a frail, yet warm smile, Gail grasped my hand like a lifeline, “No – thank you. We did not know who to call, then the emergency room gave us your number.” As I sat near Gail’s bed, I learned that she lived alone. CW was a childhood friend that she named as her POA, and he wasn’t able to stay with her. Her cancer had progressed, and she was not able to be alone anymore. She struggled to safely make food for herself, manage all of her pills, and go to the restroom. I took out one of our books and did a virtual tour that described our homes, what we do, and how we care for our residents.

“I didn’t even know places like this existed, nor did I think I would need it at 71,” she sighed and winced. When I brought her water to her, she took a drink as a tear slid down her cheek. “When I got the cancer diagnosis, I thought I would beat it, but now I realize that is not going to happen.” As she held my hand, she said, “Your home seems like a good place for my last days.” I felt humbled and gently squeezed her hand. “Let me see what my team can do.”

After I excused myself and made a few calls, it was amazing how quickly The Geneva Suites’ team came together to make her transition into our care go smoothly. The nursing team, fantastic Care Partners, and everyone at the office went above and beyond to coordinate the move. We helped CW pack a few things for Gail, collected her medications, and a couple of pictures. CW and I were finishing the last of the paperwork, when he said, “I can’t thank you enough; I didn’t know what all was involved with being a POA. To be honest, if I had known, I might not have agreed. The Geneva Suites is like an answer to a prayer I didn’t even know I had made.” With the coordination of hospice, we were able to move Gail into our home in less than 24-hours.

Many friends came to visit, and CW was there almost daily. One afternoon when I stopped in to see Gail, she said: “This is better than I imagined; I feel like I am at a resort.” We sat and talked about her life and some of her amazing trips. Gail was able to stay with us for about two weeks, and she quietly passed in her sleep.

This week I received a thank you note from CW:

“Hi Marlena,

I miss Gail every day. As you know, we had known each other since the first grade. Both being only children, we appreciated each other’s company. Our families often spent Thanksgiving together, so this time of year is especially hard.

Your home was a perfect place for Gail to end her journey. I tell everyone I can what a caring home and excellent staff you have.

Thank you and best wishes to your family. – CW”

It’s not often that we know the impact we have. Thank you again, to our team and to all that have a positive impact on seniors’ lives. You are making an incredible difference.

Warmly yours ~ Marlena



It takes a village.

Since November is the time of year when most people focus on being thankful, I feel compelled to demonstrate how immensely appreciative I am of our team at The Geneva Suites. Without the support of this amazing staff, it would be impossible to provide the phenomenal care that we offer seniors. When The Geneva Suites started, it was basically Scott (Visionary/CEO), a handful of care partners, and myself; with each of us wearing many hats. I am so blessed that we have grown and created opportunities for many more to be on a team that continues to improve.

Julie recently joined as our Director of Operations; she is remarkable at building relationships with the residents, their families, and our team of care partners. With her vast experience in the health care arena, she has brought accountability and guidelines to our procedural plan that improve the care that we give our residents. Catherine, our Senior Vice President of People Operations, has dramatically improved our hiring process and the quality of the candidates we choose to employ. Her leadership has been instrumental as the Geneva Suites continues to grow and expand. Saadia, our Director of Nursing, has created a genuinely top-notch nursing team. We now have nursing coverage (RN and LPN) in our homes that is second to none, fulfilling a dream that Scott and I have had from the beginning. Matt, business partner and Chief Financial Officer, is fantastic at keeping the business steady, holding all of us accountable and forecasting what Geneva Suites needs financially in the future so that we can grow the organization efficiently and effectively. Katie, our Buyer, ensures our homes are stocked with the necessary foods and supplies. Jose, our Chef, not only creates mouthwatering meals, but also once a week, cooks onsite at one of the homes to create an exceptional dining experience for those residents. Deb, our Scheduler, works with our care partners to meet the needs of the residents and to create consistent schedules for the staff. Tamera, our Experience Ambassador, interacts with the families to understand what they value most and afterwards with the care partners to make sure they address the concerns of the families. Lastly, I cannot forget to stress that we have almost 100 outstanding care partners (I wish I could name them all individually). They are the lifeblood of our homes because their eyes and ears register how the residents are doing and provide the love and care they deserve.

It is this fantastic team that allows me to live out my passion for service to seniors every day. Countless times people have asked, “How do you do it?” My response is, “It is not just me; it can’t be.” Although The Geneva Suites is not perfect, it operates like a village of sincere care givers. We have a whole team that wants our residents to receive care with dignity and respect. A team that wants to grow each day and improve. A team that lives out our core values all day, every day. We are accountable and willing to meet the needs of our residents and their families where they are and adjust as needed.

William Ward once said, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a gift and not giving it.” To all on my team, thank you. To all of you who make a difference in a senior’s life to make it better, thank you!

Please let me know who you are thankful for, and let me know how I’m doing. Warmly yours ~ Marlena

I am good

           I know that you shouldn’t have favorites, but sometimes it just can’t be helped. When we first opened The Geneva Suites, we had a gal named Ruth move into our Lighted Oak home. Boy oh boy, did she teach me a lot! With the cognitive changes she was experiencing, she had quite a bit of paranoia.  For this reason, she instantly did not like some people. One of those people happened to be my husband, Scott. Ruth would see him and sneer, “You, you are no good.”  Then, she would look at me and exclaim, “Better watch that one.” I would shake my head and say, “No he is a good guy.”

We worked hard to help Ruth feel at home.  For instance, we placed her curio cabinet in the dining room so she could see it and feel at ease while she had meals with us. She loved to walk and get the mail. I would often put some of my children’s artwork in the mailbox so that Ruth could get a “letter” many times a day. Slowly, she began to see Geneva Suites as her home.

On her little deck, Ruth would hold my hand and lean on me as we sat and watched the world go by. Sometimes we would talk about her past, about her kids that she loved, the sports they were involved in, or her husband.  He was in the fire department, and she was so very proud of him. Other days Ruth would talk about her dog, a Dalmatian, who was very smart and very fast. On hard days, we would talk about how scary it was not to know things, “Are you for me or against me?” I would look deep into Ruth’s blue eyes and softly smile, “I’m for you.” Often after a long stare, she would smile a little too. “I believe you. I’m scared, I don’t even know me anymore.”

Those days were hard, and unfortunately, as her disease progressed, the memories became less clear and her world became smaller. She was less worried about trying to leave and more concerned about what she could and could not remember. “I’m bad. I’m a dumb-dumb.” It was so hard to hear her self-deprecate. One of our fantastic care partners came up with an idea, “Let’s give Ruth an affirmation that she can repeat over and over.” This is what it said, “Today is a good day. I love who I am! I accept the things I can’t change! I’m 90 years old, and I’m proud of myself! I am grateful for good health, my body, and my mind. I continue to get stronger every day. I am good.” This affirmation did amazing things for her. Ruth would look into the mirror and state this.  After she held her head higher, and she would stand a little taller.

We had a small keyboard player for her and often after her affirmation, she would play. Many times, it was hymns or quick little children’s songs. One morning, we had a resident who had just passed at the house in the wee hours of the night. With her player, Ruth began to play “How Great Thou Art.”  It was beautiful and so touching to the family as they were finishing their last visit with their dad. Giving the family a hug, the daughter said to me, “I don’t know that I have ever heard her play that song; funny it was Dad’s favorite.” With a big tear, she hugged me again and went into her dad’s room.

I went and sat down next to Ruth; she leaned into me as she finished the last verse. “That was wonderful, Ruth.” She looked into my eyes again for a long time, “I am good?” The question in her voice tore at my heart a little, “Yes Ruth, yes you are.”

“I love you,” she said, putting her head on my shoulder. “I love you too,” I echoed, and I truly did. We sat there for a long time in comfortable silence.

I miss Ruth greatly. After over three years of caring for her in our home, she quietly passed. I treasure the moments that I had with her, the wisdom she shared both with her stories, and the lessons of caring for her we learned as her disease progressed.

I love that what we created allowed her sweet soul to be cared for with dignity and respect and, most of all, love.


Simple Fulfillment

I recently gave a tour to a new family considering the placement of their aunt in one of our homes.  At the end of the showing, we sat and spoke about their aunt. I learned that she loves to play cards and listen to music.  Shopping for the perfect gifts for birthdays and Christmas was a real joy for her.  Lastly, she loved organizing and sometimes reorganizing her drawers and closets.  Of course, this elevated spring to her favorite season because she relished watching the new life in her garden grow as she tackled spring cleaning.


As I looked at the niece reminiscing about her favorite aunt, I could see the love in her eyes. “She was always there for me; she was an amazing role model of how to be a strong woman, especially to a young girl who wanted to be more than a housewife.” I could see there was something troubling her. “Tell me about the concerns you have about your aunt being in our home.”


“I’m worried she won’t have enough to do and that there aren’t enough people for her to talk to.”  That was valid, and I was glad that she trusted me enough to share what she was thinking. “Let me talk to you about how we do things a little differently at The Geneva Suites. We focus on meaningful engagements instead of merely days packed with activities. We look at the skills and interests that our residents have and then build upon them.” I gave several examples of how we utilize the Geriatric Montessori method in our homes to provide our residents with a purpose.


“We believe that having a feeling of value, improves quality of life, and that is where we put our focus.” The niece began nodding her head, beginning to see the difference. I shared a story of how we had a resident who was very antsy and needed to be busy doing something all day. With his dementia, he was non-verbal, and he was quite mobile. We developed a plan for him to have his own Swiffer with his name on it. He would walk back and forth throughout the day “cleaning” the floors. When I would see him at the house, I would comment that the floors looked great, and he would beam. He was proud that he made a difference in keeping up his home.

This story really resonated with the niece, “I see how personalizing her day would be more difficult in a big setting, however, I can’t see her using a Swiffer; but she would love to help organize Tupperware or put the silverware away.” Now I was the one smiling. She got it! It can be a big leap to go from thinking bingo needs to happen every day to seeing that there is value in the day-to-day activities that make a house a home. Shortly after we ended our tour, she mentioned, “I have a lot to talk to my aunt about to learn what kind of day will feel meaningful to her.”


When she called me later to discuss moving forward with her aunt becoming a resident, she said, “After talking we decided that the smaller, quieter setting would work best for her because she is used to a pretty simple lifestyle.  My aunt did ask if she gets any choice in what job she will do, she never did like sweeping.  She was asking if there are any plants she could help take care of?”  My comment was simply, “absolutely, and she will be able to veto jobs if they aren’t her thing.”  With a little chuckle we moved on to schedule the move.


I’m looking forward to getting to know our newest resident, learning how she can impact our home and how we can support her in having fulfillment in her day!


It’s hard to know what you don’t know.


I received a call this week from a friend of a friend.  “Marlena, I need your help,” I could hear the stress and tears in her voice.

“Of course, what can I do?”

“It’s my dad, he has been in the hospital, and they just told me he has to leave.  They said he needs 24-hour care, and I need to find it in 48 hours.  I don’t know what to do.”

It was difficult to hear the distress in her voice, and at the same time, I was glad that she called and that I had resources to help.

So many people don’t understand the world of senior care, especially when their loved one’s health begins to fail.  It is hard to know what you don’t know.  Making decisions for your parent is difficult; it becomes more challenging when there is a time crunch coupled with not knowing all the options that are available.

Deciphering the complexity of senior care can be overwhelming due to its presentation in a code that doesn’t come with an answer key.  For example, IL, AL, home care, SNF, care suites, and residential homes are all part of the jargon describing senior care.

I offered to sit down with my friend and her family and explained what the abbreviations mean.  I stressed that the most significant factor should be what the care needs are for their father and how to pick the best care him. While we sat, I learned all about their father.  He loves to do little tricks and make people laugh. He can be a little ornery, especially if people are bossy.  He likes choices and didn’t choose to get sick.  The care needs had become significant, and his needs were around the clock.   After the discussion, my takeaways were that they wanted their dad to get the best care and that he was very loved.

The family took the night to think things through, and I felt honored that they chose to move him into one of our homes.  It is a huge responsibility to take care of a family’s precious member.  As we were finishing the details of the move, I said to my friend, “Thank you for trusting us to care for your dad.”

With big tears in her eyes, she said, “No, thank you.  You have made this so much easier for all of us, and we feel at peace with our decision.  I slept the best I have in months knowing that dad is going to be here.  You are a lifesaver.”

After a big hug, I finished up the paperwork.  I couldn’t stop smiling,  I love that I get to do what I love to do every day!  Please let me know what you think, feel free to comment, ask questions, and let me know how I’m doing.  Warmly yours ~ Marlena

How Time Flies

It’s funny isn’t it, how time flies. It recently dawned on me that it has been 5 years, almost to the day, since Scott and I decided to put our dream of The Geneva Suites into action. We had been working with each other for close to a year in a private pay, homecare company that Scott started in 2002. We wanted to build something unique together so we toyed with an innovative idea of opening residential homes for seniors that would truly be a home for our residents. These homes would be in gorgeous neighborhoods, they would be big and spacious and most importantly they would provide exceptional care!

If asked, most seniors would say, “I want to stay at home.” Our thought was when their home doesn’t work for various reasons, our residential model would be an awesome alternative. Our homes would be designed specifically for caring for seniors, hoping for our homes to be an extension of the family home. A 1:3 caregiver to resident ratio, would allow 24-hour awake support without hovering. Compared to the other residential models, we wanted to set ourselves apart.

Creating The Geneva Suites has been a labor of love with many successes along the way! We have built it from a dream to a reality and have had the privilege to care for more than a hundred residents, in seven homes, since our first home opened in 2016. The caring does not just come from Scott and me, but also an amazingly talented office team and fantastic loving caregiving staff.

Along the way many have asked me, “how did you ever get into this business?” The reality is, I love caring for people; it’s my passion. I love talking about what I do and why. So here I go– this blog will be an area where I can relay the good, the challenging and the heartwarming. I hope to share sweet stories I have experienced, the industry knowledge that I have gained, and my opinions on how we can take better care of our seniors, the greatest generation ever. I’ve never blogged before so feel free to comment, ask questions, and let me know how I’m doing.

Warmly yours ~ Marlena