In honor of September being Healthy Aging Month, we sat down with the director of Whitcomb Terrace, Maggie Gerardi, to understand more about this assisted living residence for seniors and what makes it so valuable for the Roaring Fork Valley community.
For starters, Whitcomb Terrace is the only nonprofit organization providing assisted living services in the Roaring Fork Valley, and it is part of Aspen Valley Hospital’s Network of Care.
Whitcomb Terrace is named for Dr. Harold “Whit” Whitcomb, a highly regarded primary care physician in Aspen who helped open the facility in 1990 under the name Castle Creek Terrace. Dr. Whit saw a need for longtime locals who wanted to continue to enjoy their retirement and friendships in the community they called home, but needed or wanted to let go of some of the burdens of running a household. Today, Whitcomb Terrace can accommodate up to 15 residents, allowing staff to truly focus on helping residents live uniquely purposeful and engaged lives.
Director Maggie Gerardi has been with the organization since 2001. Over the years she has helped families find solutions that increase not just her residents’ independence, but also allows families (and multiple generations) the opportunity to better enjoy their time together. Below, Maggie shares more about what makes Whitcomb Terrace so special, given her extensive experience at the helm of this unique community asset.
You have been at Whitcomb Terrace for over 20 years. What was your path to this profession?
“My journey of caring for and respecting my elders began early as an avocation. As a child, I helped take care of older family members and neighbors as a way of life. Throughout my youth, my affiliation with the field of older adults and caregiving grew, as my physician father encouraged me to become a junior candy striper at our local hospital. Throughout high school and college, I sought out opportunities to volunteer with various elder caregiving organizations. I thrived in these intergenerational settings and knew this path was my future.”
Whitcomb Terrace is an assisted living residence. Can you share what that means?
“Whitcomb Terrace is the place where people may need a little help with meals, chores and socialization so they can still live independent and engaged lives, but in a community setting where there is that oversight that provides a little help in many other ways throughout the day. We track the small changes in our residents’ needs and provide the care and attention that helps support our residents’ independence in having a full life.”
Is there a philosophy behind the Whitcomb Terrace lifestyle?
“We have a resident-centered care philosophy here at Whitcomb Terrace. We really look at each person as an individual and understand that everyone living here has unique needs. When we come to work at Whitcomb Terrace, we are really entering our residents’ homes. Our work is to discover daily how we can support them in being active and to bring real purpose to each day.
What does that mean? It’s not like we do bingo on Mondays and cards on Tuesdays every week of the year. We are not regimented like many other assisted living communities, where there are specific tasks or activities at a certain time.
We ask our residents what they want to do and how can we help them. For instance, we may have a resident who’s a longtime local artist and is interested in going to galleries. Our activities director, Meredith Nelson-Daniel, will get excited and contact places like Anderson Ranch and the Powers Art Center, and take that resident and others who are interested to gallery openings. Our residents form friendships and love sharing their interests with one another.”
Are there other ways that your resident-centered philosophy is reflected in the lives of Whitcomb Terrace residents?
“Lately, it’s had a lot to do with socialization. During the COVID-19 pandemic ‘isolation’ has become a buzzword. People now really understand the negative impacts isolation can have on someone, particularly our population. This has been something we’ve been saying for years. Socialization is something we all need, regardless of COVID.
One example of how we can help with socialization would be an older resident who loses their longtime partner. They become more isolated even if they are independent, and it may not make sense for them to be living alone in their home anymore. Whitcomb Terrace offers a place where people can enjoy dining in the company of other residents without prep or clean-up! And we are close to town so that keeping up with their friends and doing the things they love to do is part life at Whitcomb Terrace.”
What’s a typical day like living at Whitcomb Terrace?
“We’re so fortunate to have great chefs who spoil us with three meals a day. They love to cook to the residents’ tastes. When a new resident arrives, we have a tradition where the chefs will ask, ‘What do they like?’ And the next thing we know the chef has created that dish, and the residents and staff are all sharing this favorite meal and the memories and stories that go with it. Food has always been a way to bring people together and that is why we place such an emphasis on hiring talented chefs who can make each meal special.
People love to go to their favorite places in town, some of their old haunts even though our staff offers to pick up whatever folks need from Clark’s or Carl’s Pharmacy. Often our residents prefer to run their own errands because they love bumping into their friends and acquaintances during the day. Just like they always have.
Whitcomb Terrace is surrounded by private and public walking paths. It’s great because our residents walk together and encounter people on their walks. Some of our residents have dogs and are regularly out and about. We keep a little stash of treats in the office and the dogs know to pop by before or after their walk.
We have a very popular happy hour during the week that is hosted by one of our residents. You may also find people playing corn hole or watching an outdoor movie on our lawn. This summer, the Aspen Music Festival hosted a series of Music Truck concerts on our lawn and Mead Metcalf of the Crystal Palace has been coming each week to perform much to our residents’ delight! Our community members and business owners are very generous in reaching out to see what they can offer to our residents. For example, T Lazy-7 has invited us snowmobiling for many winters now and one of our volunteers takes residents skiing, even if it’s just a couple of “top to bottoms” on Panda Peak.
Many residents have family or friends in town and go over to their houses for meals and social events. Family members often come here for lunch. There are no restrictions on people living their lives.
These are just some examples of the many little grace notes that knit our community together.”
Whitcomb Terrace is owned and operated by Aspen Valley Hospital. Can you talk about that relationship?
“The Hospital provides fantastic administrative support and allows us to take better care of our residents and our employees. We share many operating costs such as landscaping, maintenance and security that keep our overhead low, and these savings are reflected in our pricing.
Our relationship with the Hospital creates a lot of value for the health and wellbeing of our residents. For instance, we may start noticing that someone’s stride or gait is not quite the same. We are able to easily coordinate appointments with our medical director at the Hospital and any follow-up care such as physical therapy services or medication management. The fact that we’re just down the road from the Hospital makes it a seamless experience for our residents. And our family members are grateful that we are able to take that off their plates.
Being a part of the Hospital network has allowed us to recruit and retain highly-qualified professionals who come from a variety of caregiving backgrounds. We really have the best of the best at the Hospital and at Whitcomb Terrace.”
Whitcomb Terrace has a lot of long-term staffers. Why is that?
“The first thing I look for are people who are naturally gifted with compassion, empathy and patience rather than whether they know how to perform a list of tasks. If the right candidate does not have certain skills, we can train them, because they have the fundamentals to join our team of amazingly committed and devoted caregivers.
Staff and residents often share the same passions. A staff member will climb a fourteener and then share their experience with residents who loved to climb. The Roaring Fork Valley is really a community of small communities, and our residents and staff have a lot of shared friendships, experiences and passions. It is a truly unique family atmosphere and our staff, including myself, really feel at home here.”
What’s kept you working at Whitcomb Terrace?
“I think it goes back to your first question of what led me to this vocation. Learning at a young age how much my elders had to offer in so many different ways left an impression on me, and I have built a loyal and dedicated team that shares these values. The fact that our residents and their family members see the same faces throughout their stay is really a point of pride for all of us. We are a ‘work family’ among ourselves, and together we form a family around our residents and their families.”