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Mercy Cedar Rapids partners on hub for dementia care programming, innovation

Apr 16, 2024, 14:40 PM
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Founder-director of dementia center draws on personal experience and passion to serve
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Innovation Center showcases household items that can benefit people with dementia
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Facilitators and participants in a support group for people living with dementia gather in the vestibule of the Chris & Suzy DeWolf Family Innovation Center for Aging & Dementia in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The center offers numerous support groups for people with dementia, their caregivers and older adults.



CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Four years ago, Susie Winkowski and her husband left the resort they'd owned on the West Coast because his dementia was making it too difficult to keep up with the business. They moved to Cedar Rapids to be closer to family. Suzie Winkowski felt overwhelmed and under-equipped for her caregiving role, until she learned about the Family Caregivers Center here.

Since connecting with the center, she's been taking part in caregiver support groups, building deep friendships with other caregivers and their spouses and learning how she and her husband can achieve the best quality of life even given his diagnosis.

The Winkowskis are among the dozens of people with dementia or caregivers who are benefiting from the offerings of the Family Caregivers Center and its new sister facility, the Chris & Suzy DeWolf Family Innovation Center for Aging & Dementia. Mercy Cedar Rapids opened the Innovation Center in June to greatly expand dementia programming and services and to spur innovation regarding older adults and those living with dementia.

The Innovation Center, which is connected to HallMar Village, is a joint venture of Mercy Cedar Rapids and Presbyterian Homes & Services. HallMar Village is a 237-resident senior living community that opened in the fall.

Kathy Good with her husband, Dave Good, a retired judge who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and who she provided care to for more than a decade.

Personal connection
Mercy took on dementia and caregiver services in a big way around 2014. Then-Mercy President and CEO Tim Charles had seen a caregivers' center in a hospital in New York and wanted to explore whether Mercy could open a similar site. He was aware — and extensive subsequent research confirmed — that there was a critical lack of services and support in Cedar Rapids for the growing population of people serving as caregivers for people with dementia.

Charles recruited an acquaintance, Kathy Good, to lead efforts to start such a center. Good, formerly a social worker, was also a caregiver for her husband, Dave Good, who had dementia. First as a volunteer and then as paid Mercy staff, Kathy Good, along with Charles and other Mercy staff and donors, visited caregiver centers elsewhere in the country. Good researched how Mercy might establish such a center. She engaged with Mercy executives, dementia experts, community leaders and a panel of caregivers to develop ideas and build out some plans. She also took part in a business innovation incubator of sorts to refine the plans and worked with Mercy to create the site.

The Innovation Center opened in summer 2023. It is connected to the HallMar Village senior living community.

In December 2015, Good and a team of Mercy leaders opened the Family Caregivers Center on the campus of Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids. The caregivers' center has offices for its four staff members and working space for its dozens of volunteers. It also has a few small meeting rooms and a library of books and other materials on dementia, caregiving and related topics. At the center, caregivers can access resources, support groups, educational experiences and other programming. Good is the center's director.

Several years after the caregivers' center opened, Good and her team and executives at Mercy identified a need to expand programming to better serve not only caregivers but also people with dementia as well as older adults. She and the team recognized they needed more space. When they learned that there was a shuttered church available for development on the property where Mercy and Presbyterian were building the HallMar senior living community, Good and her team jumped at the chance to transform that church into a hub serving people with dementia and older adults.

Customer discovery
The church has been totally revamped. What was the vestibule now is the Innovation Center welcome area, staff offices and meeting rooms; the former sanctuary serves as a multipurpose conference area, event space, auditorium and exercise room. The center also has a secondary gathering area equipped with a commercial kitchen. There also is a Center for Memory Health where clinicians can evaluate people to determine if they have dementia. The clinical team works with clients to develop care plans and then provide needed services. The Innovation Center connects to HallMar Village. Walking trails around the center link to surrounding neighborhoods to encourage integration into the broader community.


Good says she and her colleagues who have developed the center and its programming have relied heavily not only on research but also on a process they call customer discovery, to ensure that what they develop is in line with what people want and need. Through that approach, staff who are developing plans and programming conduct extensive engagement with the people they'll be serving and with experts in the field.

The Innovation Center is meant to serve as a "living classroom." Its staff and volunteers are constantly evolving the center's offerings in line with people's stated needs and preferences. Current offerings include the Center for Memory Health's assessment and follow-up services, educational and informational presentations, caregiver respite programs, social and support groups for people with dementia and their caregivers, exercise classes, a singing group, and entertainment such as musical performances. Coming soon is a "connection club" that will provide engaging activities for people living with earlier-stage dementia and respite for their caregivers. The center also has a showroom featuring appliances that could be helpful for people with dementia and displays of everyday items — ranging from can openers to chairs — that could be useful to them in their homes.

The Innovation Center also plans to expand its involvement in research projects and to engage in advocacy on behalf of people with dementia and their caregivers.

A patio offers expansive views of the grasslands behind the Innovation Center. The center is connected to HallMar village — a senior living community. Walking paths go through both properties. Eventually the paths will connect with those in adjacent neighborhoods.

The Family Caregivers Center has an annual budget of around $450,000, and the Innovation Center has a budget that is around $400,000. (These figures exclude the budget for the Center for Memory Health.) Both the caregivers' center and Innovation Center are funded by Mercy and philanthropy through the Mercy Medical Center Foundation. Mercy Medical Center supplies a significant amount of funding.

Focus on strengths, capabilities
Good says a thrust of the Innovation Center is to reframe people's perspectives on aging and dementia.

She says there is a pervasive view in society — and often among people with dementia and their caregivers — that those with dementia can't contribute much to those around them, and that they can't have much quality of life.

To the contrary, Good says, there is much that people with cognitive impairment can do and enjoy.

The Innovation Center's staff and volunteers have a mantra: people should focus on their strengths and capabilities, rather than having a singular focus on what they've lost and the negative aspects of life with dementia. Staff and volunteers help people with dementia, and their caregivers, to identify and build upon their capabilities and adapt to deficiencies.

Winkowski says the Family Caregivers Center and now the Innovation Center are helping her and her husband fully grasp that "even though he has dementia, he can still do what he did before," such as traveling, socializing and even country western dancing.

Barb Snively and Cindi McKee volunteer with a Family Caregivers and Innovation Center program that is a partnership with a church. They provide companionship to people with dementia while the caregivers get respite.

McKee says, "No matter what they are dealing with physically or mentally, they are still a valuable person."

Snively says her volunteer work has reaffirmed her belief that people living with dementia still have a lot to contribute to their world. "They make us volunteers smile," she says. "They are still capable of giving and receiving joy."


From left, Paula Bergmeier; Kathy Good; and Sr. Kathy Thornton, RSM, gather in the Chris & Suzy DeWolf Family Innovation Center for Aging & Dementia in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Bergmeier and Sr. Thornton are volunteer facilitators of support groups at the center for people with dementia and their caregivers. Good was key to the development of the Innovation Center and its sister facility, the Family Caregivers Center.



CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — About a decade ago, when Tim Charles, then-president and CEO of Mercy Cedar Rapids, wanted to explore the possibility of starting a facility for caregivers of people with dementia and other chronic illnesses, he knew just who to ask.

An acquaintance, Kathy Good, had been a social worker who served for more than a decade as caregiver for her husband, Dave Good. The retired judge had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and was living at HallMar, a residential care center at Mercy Medical Center. (HallMar moved to an off-campus location last year.)

Charles had witnessed Good's dogged determination to learn about and understand her husband's condition and to advocate on his behalf so he could live life as fully as possible.

Kathy Good addresses staff and volunteers of the Family Caregivers Center. Good is director of the center, which is run by Mercy Cedar Rapids.

As she recounts in her 2023 book, My World Wore a Bowtie, Good left no stone unturned seeking information about her husband's condition. She located experts who could help plot out a course for him, obtained — often through convoluted methods — the medications he needed, ensured his access to the care he required, and even worked with HallMar to improve the decor in the facility so he and his fellow residents could enjoy beautiful surroundings.

It turns out that Charles' instincts were on target — Good has applied the wisdom gained as a caregiver to build out a full range of services and resources. Over the last 10 years, she has led the establishment of a Family Caregivers Center on Mercy Medical's campus and the Chris & Suzy DeWolf Family Innovation Center for Aging & Dementia, which is connected to the new HallMar senior living community in suburban Cedar Rapids. She has overseen the creation at the centers of an expansive and growing menu of programs for caregivers and people with dementia and other chronic illnesses.

Good's book is partly a recounting of what it was like to be the wife of an accomplished, outgoing, healthy man blindsided by an Alzheimer's diagnosis and how the two Goods navigated life as Dave's condition worsened until his death. He died on May 17, 2015, at age 68. The book also serves as a comprehensive guide to how Good and others developed the Family Caregivers Center and Innovation Center.

The book is available from the Family Caregivers Center. For more information, visit

The Innovation Center staff and volunteers have set up several kiosks like this one around the center. The kiosks display everyday tools and small appliances that could make life easier for people with dementia and for older adults. This kiosk displays easy-grip silverware and a jar opener.



CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — At the innovation hub that Mercy Cedar Rapids and a partner opened last summer, there is a showroom and kiosk area help people with dementia and their caregivers learn about household items and how to use them.

The Chris & Suzy DeWolf Family Innovation Center for Aging & Dementia in suburban Cedar Rapids, which is run by Mercy Cedar Rapids, has two areas where people who are older adults and/or who have with dementia and their caregivers can inspect the household items. In the appliance showroom, several Samsung smart appliances are set up for use in a model kitchen. Small household tools, like can openers, are set up in kiosks elsewhere in the center.

The Chris & Suzy DeWolf Family Innovation Center for Aging & Dementia has a small showroom of smart appliances that could be a good option for people with dementia and for older adults. Signs on the appliances explain their special features.

Cedar Rapids' Grand Appliance store donated the appliances and has provided its staff's expertise to the Innovation Center. The center is training volunteers to be able to demonstrate the appliances to the center's clients.

There is a smart refrigerator, induction stove, dishwasher and microwave on display in the center's showroom. These appliances have safety features that can prevent tragedy — for instance, the induction stove's surface does not get hot anywhere except under a pan placed on it.

Cedar Rapids retailer Grand Appliance donated smart appliances to be displayed in the showroom and demonstrates how people with dementia could benefit from the models. Here, chatting about the appliances, are from left, center volunteer Cindy Lyness, Grand Appliance manager Nic Duggan, center director Kathy Good, and Grand Appliance saleswoman Sarah Penney.

All the appliances can be monitored and operated remotely. If a caregiver is at work, they will know if their loved one with dementia has turned on a stove at home. The caregiver also could view the contents of the refrigerator from anywhere through video technology. This could help save time driving home to view the contents before going grocery shopping.

Also in the showroom is a furniture display. Innovation Center visitors can test out different chairs and tables for sturdiness and stability and ease of use for older adults and people with dementia.

In another area, the Innovation Center has multiple kiosks with a rotating display of assistive devices such as specially designed silverware and thermostats. Innovation Center staff and volunteers can explain to clients how the items can benefit older adults and people with dementia.


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