Thanks to the efforts and foresight of a local caregiver, a long-standing wellness program in Merrill will continue.
In mid-January, Ministry-Good Samaritan Health Center (MSGHC) announced the discontinuance of its Wellness Program which had served patients since 1996. The news came as a shock to many participants.
“We were very saddened,” commented three-year program participant Mary Ann Van Der Geest. “We were encouraged by our doctors to take part in the program and then they just take it away! We wouldn’t be where we are now physically without this program. Personally, I had both hips done in two weeks. Without the program I don’t know where I would be.”
“It’s a special place,” comments program participant Jean Bowen. “There are over 100 people who regularly participate, some who have been going there 15-20 years. The group has really made it feel like a small family. We cheer each other on before and after our surgeries and really look out for one another.”
As of Feb. 12, the program reduced its hours to 8-10 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, until March 31 when the program closes for good.
Despite their frustration, Bowen, Van Der Geest and other participants went to work seeking support to keep the program alive.
On Feb. 1, Diane Goetsch, owner of Kindhearted Home Care LLC and lifelong caregiver, answered their call.
“I came into work and saw several e-mails regarding the (Merrill) Enrichment Center being approached about taking over the wellness program at Good Samaritan,” Goetsch explains. “I decided to contact the city to see if they were interested in taking the program over. But they weren’t interested in running a business, which is really what it would come down to. So then I decided to look at what options may be available to me. I didn’t want to see this program go away.”
That is when Goetsch took a hard look at the new facility she was planning to build at 900 E. 1st St.
“I asked the group what they were looking for and would need to accommodate a health and fitness program. Unfortunately, the property on East First Street just wasn’t suitable. So I took a look at the possibility of relocating the facility to the former Lincoln House site (120 S. Mill St.).
“The way I saw it, it would be a win-win for me and the city. The city wanted to see the property developed into something that would draw traffic to the downtown. A facility like the one I am planning, with an added health and fitness program, would do just that. Participants drop in to exercise and then have the opportunity to take advantage of nearby downtown businesses. Also having Jenny Towers so close, it just made sense for a good location.”
The new facility will span 5,000 square feet (over twice the size of the original plans at 900 E. 1st). While continuing Kindhearted’s existing services such as dementia and Alzheimer’s care, supportive home care and services for developmentally disabled clients, the facility will also feature care for traumatic brain injury clients, intellectual disabilities, respite care for children, and spa services. The health and fitness center will be located on the first-level in an area measuring 2,000 square feett, compared to the 1,600 square feet area of the previous program at MGSHC.
Goetsch took her development proposal to the city council for final approval on Feb. 9.
The day before the proposal would be placed in the hands of the council, Goetsch received an encouraging response from MSGHC’s Diagnostic and Therapeutic Services. She was told Ministry would consider leasing her the space in the Menard Center during her construction process, and potentially donate some of the equipment.
“It was a great feeling to know I had their support and the possibility of renting their space until our facility was completed!” Geotsch adds.
Goetsch’s proposal passed unanimously at the Feb. 9 council meeting. However, 10 days later, Goetsch received word from Ministry Good Samaritan that they would not be able to lease her the space or donate the equipment, citing time and legal constraints.
That left Goetsch without a temporary location for the planned program, and the expense of purchasing new equipment sooner than expected.
“By that point I was already invested in this, I had the city’s approval and had people excited about this. I just couldn’t back out. That just wasn’t an option.” Goetsch adds.
Thanks to the generosity of ‘Winds and Paradox’ owner and developer Stephanie Springborn, Goetsch was able to find a temporary space for the wellness program.
“Ms. Springborn offered to rent to me an area of commercial space she owned at a former heating and cooling property on Blaine Street and it’s a great fit,” Goetsch said. “There is not only an abundance of parking, but handicap parking as well. Best of all is the building is handicap accessible. I am so very grateful to her. Without her, I don’t know what I would have done! The many participants of the wellness program would have had no place to go.”
As Gotesch explains, the timeline is set for ground to be broken this spring and for the new single-level facility to be open by September.
In the meantime, the temporary location will be at 104 Blaine St. and hours of operation will be 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“This will be a facility like no other. The health and fitness center will have an environment like no other facility in the community.” Goestch adds. “In the past, participants must have had a doctor’s order to attend the program, but our new health and fitness center will be open to the public. It will feature commercial grade cardio and strength building equipment and will cater to the needs of adults ages 50+ who would like to include fitness in their lives. Those who currently attend the program have been attending for years.
“They have told me how they want a safe place to get together and talk, to discuss their grandchildren and share what’s on their minds. I want to give them that. That is exactly the type of atmosphere I want to create for them. I want to create a safe place where participants can come to promote not only their physical health, but social and emotional health as well. Health and fitness is something that is very important, even for our elders.”
Merrill City Administrator Dave Johnson appeared equally excited, citing the city’s relief in having the vacant property being developed as well as acknowledging the value of Goetsch’s service to the increasing aging population in Lincoln County.
For more information about Kindhearted’s Health and Fitness program, contact Kindhearted Home Care at 715-218-3772 or stop by the office located at 101 N. Scott St.
Ministry Health Care did not respond to requests for information prior to press time.