Riverbend: ‘A Home, Not an Institution’

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Communities / May. 14, 2015 1:46pm EDT

By Sarah Caouette


Riverbend residents Bea Tenney and Tim Doyle get a hand peeling potatoes for potato salad from Adam Doyle, the son of Riverbend director Jennifer Doyle. (Herald / Tim Calabro) Riverbend residents Bea Tenney and Tim Doyle get a hand peeling potatoes for potato salad from Adam Doyle, the son of Riverbend director Jennifer Doyle. (Herald / Tim Calabro) Upon touring Riverbend Residential a couple months ago, a woman seeking an elder-care living situation for her mother observed Riverbend residents partaking in household activities such as folding laundry and drying dishes. She also noticed the potted plants and flowers decorating corners and tables, and the pair of cats that lounged comfortably in rooms.

“Oh, I see the difference,” she said, enthusiastically. “This is a home, not an institution.”

What this woman realized during her visit to Riverbend was that not all nursing homes are the same, that some are changing the mold.

Jennifer Doyle, the owner of Riverbend, takes pride in these noticeable differences—as she should, having just passed another inspection with the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living. For Doyle and Riverbend staff, this means they are 10 years standing with a “deficiency-free” status.


Carmen Gioia shows off some of the beads that he’s made at Riverbend in Chelsea. (Herald / Tim Calabro) Carmen Gioia shows off some of the beads that he’s made at Riverbend in Chelsea. (Herald / Tim Calabro) When asked how she has managed to keep Riverbend so wellmaintained, Doyle cites the hearts of her dedicated staff.

“They really take ownership in caring for the facility and the residents as if it was their own home,” she said. “This is what makes the biggest difference day to day.”

Shared Commitment

With over 50% of her employees having worked at Riverbend for over eight years, and Doyle, herself, tenured with 10 years, one can easily see what she means by shared commitment. When it comes to the dynamic between Riverbend residents and the staff, the relationships are symbiotic—everyone pitches in where they can, and everyone is on the same team—one big family, keeping a household running.

Doyle points out how important it is for everyone to participate in household activities— how it promotes an environment built on mutual respect and community, and how different roles can bring a sense of value into lives. This mindset has also trickled down to the family members of residents and regular visitors that spend time at Riverbend. It’s not uncommon for them to lend a hand in the kitchen or during situations that are more personal in nature.

Going through the registry of all the residents who have come through Riverbend’s doors, is like taking a trip down memory lane for Doyle and her assistant manager, Bobbi Sue Champney. Certain names and dates elicit stories that make them smile and laugh, while there are others that have stuck with them, and at times are sad to think about.

Doyle recalls when her mother, Janet Avery, owned Riverbend in the 1980s and how it was Doyle’s first job working there at the age of 13. She remembers fondly when Dr. Brewster Martin was the visiting doctor, as well as the residents she cared for and lost.

An Intimate Business

It’s an intimate business working as a caretaker, especially losing those you have gotten close to over the years. It is no different than losing a family member, but having years of experience caring for the elderly population, Doyle reconciles the grief by understanding “where there is life, there is death. Holding the hand of my first dying patient at 13 could have easily taken me the other way, but instead I can hold someone’s hand and comfort them through the hardest parts.”

Learning about the Eden Alternative for Improved Living at a conference recently, Doyle hopes to bring more of this philosophy into daily practice at Riverbend. Founded by Dr. William Thomas 20 years ago, it has been responsible for changing the institutional model of nursing homes to a new model that encourages a “human habitat” empowering to both staff and residents.

“We could always use more plants and activities around here, and I’d like to get more kids coming around,” said Doyle. “The residents love when they visit.”

Local Girl Scout troops pop in to sing on occasion, and there’s an ongoing relationship between Riverbend and the Chelsea School. The children of long-time staff have also grown up spending time at Riverbend, and know all the residents by name. With the Farmer’s Market starting up again soon, staff is preparing to take groups over to the north common on Fridays to do a little shopping and socializing.

To find out more about Riverbend, get involved, or come for a visit, call Jennifer Doyle at 685- 2250.

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