FREELANDVILLE, Ind. — Over the past 50 years, this little town has visibly gotten smaller, though its spirit may have actually gotten stronger given the celebration the community threw for itself last summer celebrating its 150th birthday.

Still, there’s no denying that Freelandville is not all it once was.

While business and activity within Freelandville had been dwindling for a while, with the consolidation of surrounding small-town schools into the North Knox School Corp. in the 1960s, the tide really started to turn for this once-bustling hub of enterprise.

One by one, businesses started to close and folks moved away. Grocery stores, butcher shops, tailors, gas stations and drugstores closed up as their customers moved away.

But through all of those changes, one thing has remained a constant: The Freelandville Community Home at 310 N. Carlisle St.

Like the town, the 50-bed facility that opened in 1963 has seen its population decline as well; there are currently 20 openings.

Again, like the community, the Freelandville Community Home is doing pretty well these days.

For the second year in a row, the community home has been given a 5-star rating by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, a federal agency. That’s not an easy accomplishment to attain even once, never mind twice.

“It’s much more difficult to sustain that rating than it is to hit it once,” said Stan Harbin, president of the board of directors at the home. “We’re extremely proud of (administrator) Jean Johanningsmeier and her staff.”

Johanningsmeier has been working at the facility since 1997. She spent 13 years as the director of nursing and has occupied the head administrator’s chair for the past seven. Harbin and board vice president John Manning have been closely linked with the facility for years and years as well.

All three said that the facility’s survival can’t be attributed to just one factor alone.

Support from the community, Harbin said, has been integral from the very beginning.

The nonprofit community home opened in 1960 and was built totally out-of-pocket, with no loans or government involvement.

Almost immediately, it set a high standard of care.

“It was the place to be,” said Dr. Ralph Jacqmain. “You had to have references, a recommendation — especially if you weren’t from Freelandville because they took care of their own up there.

“But it was where you wanted to go if you were going to be in a nursing home,” he said. “From the beginning, they had a reputation for taking really good care of their patients.”

Over the years, the facility has been expanded several times, and as regulations within the long-term care industry changed, Freelandville Community Home evolved as well.

The facility is now partnered with Good Samaritan Hospital and is pursuing other areas of expansion. It offers outpatient therapy as well as inpatient, rehabilitation-to-home services and is also now involved in delivering Meals on Wheels to the surrounding area, Johanningsmeier said.

Even as the facility has grown and evolved, support from the community has stayed steadfast.

“The community has been really good about supporting this home,” Johanningsmeier said. “If you don’t have that support, it’s hard to stay afloat in these small little towns.

“And don’t get me wrong: It’s a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication. You have to have the heart for this.”

Harbin and Manning both agreed that the facility strives to find staff members who possess that passion, emotional capacity and drive to work in the long-term care industry.

“We feel like there’s no better place for these residents anywhere in the country,” Harbin said. “Many of these employees look at their efforts here as a ministry. It’s more than just an income-producer for them.”

Once they’re employed at the community home, there’s a constant stream of training and continuing education that staff members are expected to keep up with.

But empathy, Johanningsmeier said, can’t be taught.

“You can’t teach the compassion and the empathy. It’s hard to find those traits anymore,” she said.

The home currently has 44 staff members who are integral in making the facility’s foundation so strong. The compassionate bond that they build with residents and their families, Manning said, was made readily apparent to him when his mother passed away.

Manning, like Harbin, decided that the Freelandville facility was the place where his mother could get the best care and support in her later years, and when she passed away, he wasn’t the only one in the facility who grieved.

“The next morning, I was in her room getting her stuff and probably a half-dozen of the ladies came in and had a big cry fest. They get attached to the patients here,” he said. “They didn’t owe me and my family anything different, it was truly just them saying, ‘I’m going to miss your mom.’

“And you can’t teach that.”

Beyond the stellar and professional staff and continuous community support, Johanningsmeier noted that everyone works to make the facility as home-like as possible.

That, she said, is where the facility “really shines.”

“When (residents) come in, we try to carry over how they were doing things at home,” Johanningsmeier said.

Coupled with the quaint, cheery and homey decor throughout the facility, residents have plenty of opportunities to continue to be active. The facility just revamped its activities program in January, doubling the offerings for residents. The facility bus takes a group on outings at least every other week, traveling around the county to parks, restaurants and places like the Indiana Military Museum.

Freelandville Community Home also hosts benefits and other events such as Easter egg hunts that the community is welcome to attend, and there are decorating contests within the home on holidays, a Kentucky Derby hat contest on Saturday, as well other special themed activities to coordinate with whatever holiday or anniversary is observed on a given day.

On May 4, dubbed “Star Wars Day,” for example, residents watched “Star Wars” movies in the lobby and used colorful pool noodles as lightsabers during their exercise time.

Residents partake in bingo and birthday parties, listen to church choir performances and speakers, and even get a visit from “Elvis” once in awhile

Other than the staff members, community support and home-like atmosphere, there’s one more, slightly less tangible secret to the Freelandville facility’s success: faith.

“That’s a very, if not the most, significant part of the success here in our view,” Harbin said. “We open and close our board meetings in prayer. It’s an integral part.

“We feel like that’s what sustains us.”


Source: Vincennes Sun-Commercial, http://bit.ly/2r6ZeUA


Information from: Vincennes Sun-Commercial, http://www.vincennes.com

This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by the Vincennes Sun-Commercial.