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Heritage Park is much more than a nursing home

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Just like its residents, Heritage Park Care Center wears its age well. A quiet presence on the end of Village Road since 1987, it has only become more essential as the town has grown around it and other senior care facilities have sprung up,

“What I think makes our facility unique is the continuum of care,” Executive Director Brian Zaragoza explained.

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Indeed, the only overlap with a facility like Sopris Lodge — currently under construction on the north end of Second Street — is the assisted living wing, which offers meals, housekeeping, laundry and otherwise leaves residents to their own devices.

But the bulk of Heritage Park’s 80-odd patients are somewhere else on the spectrum of needs.

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Many need more care and oversight, and there’s a special secure unit for memory care residents. Meanwhile, others visit only for a few days while a caregiver is out of town on vacation, or while they’re recovering from a medical procedure. Still more community members take advantage of outpatient rehab services.

Among the nurses, therapists housekeepers, management and bus driver, the facility hosts 160 employees — more than half of them full time. That makes them the second biggest employer in town after the school district.

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While there are plenty of locks for security reasons, visitors are admitted at all hours. In addition to friends and family, church and school groups often take advantage of the opportunity.

“We see a lot of community visitors,” Zaragoza said. “Sometimes someone will be here to see their mom or dad and poke their head into another room to say hello.”

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While some residents may have moved directly to Heritage Park to be closer to family, most have deep connections in the community, and Zaragoza takes great pride in the organization’s role in keeping them here.

“I was blessed to walk into a building that has such a good reputation,” he said. “We’ve been here so long that everybody’s got a story. There have been so many influential people who have lived here. It has been extremely humbling.”

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Zaragoza is also well aware that many families don’t like the idea of having someone else care for their aging loved ones.

“A lot of folks are scared off by the idea of a nursing home,” he said. “It kind of depends on how familiar a family is with the long-term care industry.”

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And while there are many cultures that keep multiple generations in the same home for life, he cautioned against a direct comparison.

Instead, he encouraged folks to put themselves in the shoes of someone working multiple jobs, living in a different state or still raising their own kids trying to figure out how to care for a parent who needs bathroom or bathing help.

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“Not only do people not know how to handle it, but it takes a big mental toll,” he said.

A nursing home also offers opportunities for socialization, both with other residents and the community at large. The staff also has the expertise to help families navigate systems like Medicare and Medicaid to help pay for their services.

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And, when end of life comes, they know how to deal with that, too.

“We’re not in the business of saving everyone who walks in the door, and that’s a tough concept,” Zaragoza noted.

It says something that, despite the sad aspects of the job, Heritage Park was recently selected as the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce’s Business of the Year in no small part on account of being a great place to work. And the staff has no intention of resting on its laurels.

“The world of healthcare is always evolving,” Zaragoza said. “It’s a question of how we adapt to those changes while still promoting a high level of care.”

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