Frank Strohkarck had watched his sister, Helen, become increasingly disoriented from Alzheimer's disease.
She had persuaded him to leave Pennsylvania and move near her in the Fairhaven retirement community in South Carroll after his wife's death in 1989. So, when she became ill, he was reluctant to send her far away to a nursing home.
But he didn't have to do that. As Mr. Strohkarck searched for a place for his sister last year, Copper Ridge opened on the property next to Fairhaven. A year later, he still is grateful for the Sykesville facility, which cares for people with Alzheimer's disease and other memory-impairing illnesses.
"These people are compassionate. You don't get that everywhere, " Mr. Strohkarck, 86, said Monday during the first anniversary celebration at Copper Ridge.
His sister, Helen, 78, was one of the facility's first residents. "The assistants here are very kind and considerate, and I am very happy with the care they have given her," he said.
That is just what the staff and associates of Copper Ridge were hoping to hear from the families of the facility's 75 residents.
During a family council meeting last week, some Copper Ridge staff members discussed the progress they've made in that first year and talked about plans for the future.
"Copper Ridge has offered a unique program, focusing specifically on the care needs of residents and families with dementia-related illnesses," said Carol L. Kershner, Copper Ridge's administrator. "Medical and psychiatric care, provided in conjunction with staff from Johns Hopkins [Hospital], has assured that residents' needs are attended to with a greater intensity than is possible in a typical long-term setting."
Copper Ridge opened last July after several years of discussion and study by Episcopal Ministries to the Aging Inc., the parent company of both Copper Ridge and Fairhaven. The celebration was marked by praise for the facility and by a Fairhaven resident's presentation of a scrapbook detailing the first year of Copper Ridge.
Ms. Kershner believes that the facility's organization provides for residents in ways that similar care-giving sites do not. For example, Copper Ridge offers a variety of care programs, from outpatient services to adult day care, patient assessment, assisted living and comprehensive nursing care.
"Copper Ridge is set up in a different model of care than the traditional model of a nursing home " said spokeswoman Mindy Stewart. "It is . . . a social model of care [in which] we have more activities and things to offer than the traditional nursing home setting."
There is little about Copper Ridge to remind residents that they ++ are living in a "nursing home." Rooms feature decorative borders on cream-colored walls, tabletop lamps and window seats overlooking beautifully landscaped property. The nurse's stations resemble study desks, and they are surrounded by couches and chairs that may be used for residents to entertain their families, visit the nurses or for other purposes.
Volunteers work with residents in small groups, and some bring their pets to visit. Other activities focus on making residents feel part of a community, Ms. Stewart said.
"There are activities that center around the things that residents would normally do, such as making the bed, clearing the table, making snacks and things like that," she said. "Things that make us feel more productive make them feel that way, too.
"You won't see things like bingo here. We try to provide activities [in which] our residents can find success and feel good about the accomplishment."
The Copper Ridge philosophy and atmosphere was what Mr. Strohkarck was looking for when he realized that he no longer would be able to care for his sister. He said he admired the center's commitment to resident comfort and care.
"They are good and kind people here. They will take my sister by the hand and take her where she wants to go," Mr. Strohkarck said. "I mean, it's hard for her. She knows there is something wrong with her head, but she just doesn't know what it is. Being here makes it easier for her."
Copper Ridge also makes it easier for residents' families. Julie Bowersox said she no longer has to worry about her mother, Judith, making her way out of their Towson home and wandering into the streets.
Judith Bowersox, who suffered brain damage in 1992, is one of Copper Ridge's first residents and, at age 48, is its youngest. She had been a resident of a Delaware facility that specialized in head injuries, but that facility "closed abruptly" in March 1994, Julie Bowersox said.
Mrs. Bowersox moved to Copper Ridge because of her increasingly compulsive behavior, which her daughter became unable to control.
"We had her going to adult day care, but during the evening and night, she would wander," said Ms. Bowersox, 25. "If we didn't lock all the doors or sleep on the keys, she would go outside."
Ms. Bowersox said that although her mother's condition is not really a memory disorder, she is pleased with the care her mother is receiving at Copper Ridge.
"She seems to be very happy there. She is around people all the time, and I think it is important for her to be socializing," Ms. Bowersox said. "I think she'd rather be home, and sometimes she asks us about it. But when we explain to her that it is best that she stay there, she says 'It's a nice place to be. I don't have to do anything.' "