Friday, October 8, 2010

Michigan group homes for severely disabled

A few weeks ago, I made a trip to Ottawa County in Western Michigan and visited what many consider a model program for people with the most severe developmental disabilities. I am always on the look-out for homes that care for people like my sons and these were outstanding by any measure.

Harbor House Ministries in Jenison, Michigan (just west of Grand Rapids in eastern Ottawa County), is a faith-based non-profit organization that grew out of a need for housing for people with severe disabilities. Parents and caregivers designed the residences (three buildings, each containing two 6-bed group homes) based on their conception of an ideal living situation for their loved-ones.

The homes are spacious, accessible for wheelchairs, and well-equipped for this population. For each six-bed unit, there is a spacious living and dining area. This is separated from the bedrooms by a firewall that would take two hours to burn through if there were ever a fire - it takes a mother to think of something like that. Each resident has his or her own large bedroom, furnished and decorated according to their personalities and wishes. One of the residents is so enamored of McDonald's that he would spend all his waking hours there if he could. His room is decorated in McDonald's red and yellow colors and contains all the images familiar to McDonald's fans.

Most of the residents at Harbor House have moved there from their family homes and they bring their own beds and familiar furnishings. Each bedroom has its own bathroom. Many families have provided a sleeper-sofa in case they need to spend the night if their family member needs them. Each room is temperature controlled and the floor is heated for the residents who crawl and spend time on the floor. Each 6-bed unit has a large fully-equipped shower and bathroom.

I have been in group homes that have a television blaring full-time (more often for the staff than for the residents), but at Harbor House, there were no TV's except in a few residents' rooms. They do show DVD's for the residents for entertainment, but there is a lot more at Harbor House to do than stare at a TV all day.

A large activity center was built for a day program and other recreational and therapeutic activities. The building includes a therapy pool heated to 92 degrees that 3 or 4 residents can use at a time. It is used every day. A kitchen for preparing evening meals for residents is also part of the spacious activity center. Residents participate in community activities according to their individual needs and abilities.

Peggy Dreisenga, the Community Relations Director for Harbor House, says that they are most proud of the care they give residents. The staff-to-resident ratio is 1:2. A nurse is on staff days and evenings and always on-call for emergencies. They hire staff based on their compassion, integrity, energy, and joy and encourage close relationships with families. " We can train the specific tasks of care, but we can't teach a person to be caring...It is our goal to provide the opportunity for a great life, not just a great place to live," says Peggy.

There are many other factors that make this program a success:

  • The organization operates debt-free so that all the funds coming in are spent on residents and maintaining the facilities.
  • They have strong community support from family groups, local churches, their local Community Mental Health agency, and other community organizations.
  • Harbor House recognizes that families of adults with severe developmental disabilities are the best advocates for their adult family members. Families meet regularly and help with various tasks in the homes.
  • It costs less to place a person at Harbor House than it does in other group homes in Ottawa County.
  • Staff makes on average a dollar more per hour than staff in other group homes and there are other incentives to keep good people on staff such as flexible hours, especially important for college students and parents.
Harbor House is not expanding its facilities, but the organization is willing to help others who are interested in providing excellent care for their severely disabled family members.

For more information, contact:

Peggy Driesenga, Community Relations Director

Harbor House Ministries
919 44th Street Jenison, Michigan 49428
(616) 797-9920
(616) 797-9921 Fax

The Website for Harbor House Ministries provides more information and pictures of their facilities.


karen said...

Thank you for taking the time to visit Harbor House. We have had the joy of having our son there for 5 years now. We did alot of research before hand as we traveled to many states and went to more homes then we can count. We found harbor House for our son the very year that I was diagnosed with cancer. It has been the very best home for the many needs that he has.We had never seen in all the years that we looked, a place as nice as Harbor House.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for visiting our son's home and writing such nice comments. We agree wholeheartedly - it is the best place imaginable for him! The people who work there feel like members of our family.