Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Martin Vale, executive director of Cedar Creek Senior Living, gives a treat to Shorty while he sits on the lap of his owner, Doris Crafts, as Rita Farmwald looks on.
From the outside, Cedar Creek Senior Living looks like any other assisted living home: a large building with a bus loading zone, everything wheelchair accessible.
But walk through the front doors and it immediately looks, and feels, different.
The open foyer is reminiscent of a hotel lobby, with a fireplace to the left surrounded by chairs and a couch, a small bar with the refreshment of the day to the right, and a smiling receptionist straight ahead with a remote to open the automatic door for you before you can even reach for the handle.
Cedar Creek has been in Madera for 10 years and was built from the ground up as an assisted living community. With just over 100 beds, it is the largest of its kind in the area. But size is not what sets it apart.
What does are the staff members who work here 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the eight department heads that work alongside them.
Martin Vale has been the senior executive director of Cedar Creek for six years. His office is behind the door to the left of the receptionist’s desk, where he seems secluded, but is actually far from it. Where many people in his position would spend most of their time behind a cluttered desk— much like his, where stacks of paper cover every available inch — Vale spends much of his time among the residents.
“Most of my administrative work takes place between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m.,” Vale said. “And much of that is spent out there [in the halls], because that is where you see things and hear things.”
When asked about how the facility cared for its residents, Vale halted in giving an explanation.
“It’s really easier to just show you. Want to turn that [recorder] off and go for a walk?”
On a tour of the facility, Vale walked a path that was obviously familiar to him. He stopped every few steps to acknowledge a passing resident or staff member.
“We have an app called Vibrant Life,” Vale said, stopping in front of a wall and pointing out pictures of residents. “So families can see what mum or dad are doing each day. We take a picture of them using the app and it’s sent instantly to the family so they know what’s going on. That way, when family comes and asks mum or dad what they did today and they say ‘nothing,’ they can say, ‘What do you mean nothing? I have a picture of you bowling today.’”
Vale continued through the halls and into the dining room, where Cedar Creek was preparing to host a luncheon for a community organization. The staff in there stopped and spoke with him before he ducked into the kitchen and visited with G. Lynn Sharp, the culinary services director.
“I’ve been in the food business for 40 years,” Sharp said. “My produce cost here has doubled or tripled because everything is fresh.”
Sharp makes everything from scratch for the residents, ensuring they get the highest nutritional value from their meals. He makes a menu every week that residents can order off of, and he says he always includes what he calls “go-to” meals. Things like chicken and hamburgers that are comfort foods for the residents, safe items that are always sure to please.
“Everything we do, we ask what is best for the resident,” Sharp said.
Vale next showed off the dining hall, where the residents were having lunch fresh from Sharp’s kitchen. Many of them smiled and waved as he passed, and the caregivers serving the meals smiled at his presence.
At the memory care wing, he paused to point out pictures on the wall.
“I keep these pictures here to show people where mum and dad are at,” Vale said, motioning to images that showed men and women looking at reflections of their younger selves in mirrors. “A lot of times, people come in and they say ‘mum or dad isn’t that bad, they just forget things sometimes.’ And then I show them these pictures, and it clicks. It makes sense why mum or dad isn’t acting like mum or dad anymore.”
After a quick look inside the memory care wing, Vale headed back to his office, where he introduced Laura Geuvjehizian, director of sales and marketing for Cedar Creek. But not before a fire alarm went off andstaff reacted calmly in a situation that can cause absolute havoc.
The blaring of the alarm had everyone checking where the fire was, and breathing a sigh of relief upon learning there was no fire. The system had tripped itself — a false alarm.
Geuvjehizian laughed. “Just another day.”
She talked about the many events that happen at Cedar Creek, like bus trips to Monterey and Yosemite. But mostly, she spoke about the environment she has found herself in.
“There’s just something about this place,” Geuvjehizian. “I hope to stay here a long time. I plan to buy a house here, that’s how much I love it.”
Lauren Mueller is a student in Gary Rice’s community journalism class at California State University, Fresno.