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Diamond Willow Assisted Living opening May 1

Diamond Willow Assisted Living will begin welcoming residents in May, Evergreen and Birchbark Suites offering an alternative for seniors with complex care needs.

Diamond Willow Assisted Living will begin welcoming residents in May, Evergreen and Birchbark Suites offering an alternative for seniors with complex care needs.

The "home-like environment" on Crocus Hill Street features two mirror image buildings, each housing 10 residents with advanced medical, memory or physical care needs through the end of life.

The Park Rapids home is the sixth to be constructed. Baxter, Mountain Iron, Cloquet, Proctor and Grand Rapids are also home to the assisted living facilities.

The declining health of Natalie Zeleznikar's grandmother, Hazel Wyatt, propelled the initiative.

"She's the reason my partner and I run nursing homes," the executive director of operations explained.

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Zeleznikar grew up in a small community, her relationship with her grandparents and other seniors "shaping my love for this."

Zeleznikar's mother, who became her grandfather Clifford's hospice caretaker, would engage him by assigning tasks.

"It gave him a sense of purpose," Zeleznikar said, unaware at the time that her mother's intuitive guidance was molding her own life's path.

"Make sure you take care of Grandma," Clifford told his granddaughter before succumbing to bone cancer. Zeleznikar took her grandfather's directive to heart.

In 2003, Hazel Wyatt's declining health was the catalyst for the design of Diamond Willow.

Zeleznikar, a licensed nursing home administrator, and partner Lynn Gevik, a registered nurse, decided to create an assisted living setting that reflects home.

The duo integrated best practice principles for quality of life with a well-appointed dwelling. "It's an atmosphere we'd choose for ourselves," Zeleznikar said. "I can honestly say I could live here. That's the benchmark."

Zeleznikar's grandmother was admitted to the Proctor site in 2004, twice as a hospice patient, but recovering.

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"My job is not to predict death," Zeleznikar said of her role. "My job is to create a great ending for people - whenever the end comes."

A spacious foyer welcomes guests in each of the two 6,800-square-foot buildings. An adjoining great room is home to a majestic fireplace and dining areas, open to the inviting kitchen area - "the hub."

The 380-square-foot suites feature private baths. Tenants bring furniture from home, assuaging the transition trauma. Three personal care attendants will be on site during the day with a staff member on duty throughout the night. If a resident wakes up at midnight, he or she will have a companion.

"We look for people with a genuine level of concern, empathy," Zeleznikar said of the staff.

A full-time RN (registered nurse) and LPN (licensed practical nurse) will direct the campus, with a support team of three RNs available.

Data will be monitored, care practices audited to assure positive outcomes.

Two whirlpools are accessible and a beauty shop is on site, a hairstylist arriving on a regular basis. Massages are also available.

"This is not an institution. This is Grandma Hazel's house, just as if she were at the farm," Zeleznikar said of Diamond Willow's "back to basics, common sense delivery of care."

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An open house will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 1. Facility tours will be available with pie and coffee served.

For more information on Diamond Willow Assisted Living, call 732-3606.

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