ASHLAND — Rosalind “Bud” Brehm had always been dressed to impress.
“She wasn’t just dressed to the nines, sometimes she was dressed to the 19s,” one of her daughters Leslie Crabtree said.
And, she always had every hair in place, her other daughter Laurie Loftis added.
Brehm had also been known by the larger Ashland County community as the Queen of the Ashland County Fair.
The two said their mother had always made a statement wherever she went. But as Brehm grew older and settled into life in a nursing home, she could no longer go shopping as she wished due to declining health.
The staff at her nursing home, Lutheran Social Services The Good Shepherd in Ashland, took note of her longing to shop when she was a resident in 2014, and they made a shopping trip possible.
Brehm was one of the first residents to have a wish granted by The Good Shepherd’s “As You Wish” program, which began in the summer of 2013. The goal of the program is to give residents a chance to do something they have always wanted to do, or allow them another chance to do something they have long loved.
Brehm had been a resident at LSS The Good Shepherd for approximately seven years before her death three years ago at the age of 94. Her daughters said when they visited Brehm she always spoke about the day her wish had been granted, and she wore the clothes she bought that day for any special outings that followed.
“As far as impact on her, I know she talked about it for a long time,” Loftis said. “She probably still is to this day. If she would see some of her former roommates up in Heaven, they’d probably talk about the (As You Wish) day.”
The program is similar to the work of the “Make A Wish Foundation,” a nonprofit organization that helps fulfill the wishes of children with critical illnesses, said Terry McQuillen, director of life enrichment and volunteer coordinator at The Good Shepherd.
Mental wellbeing had been a concern for McQuillen when she started the “As You Wish” program, and has been a concern in nursing facilities documented for decades.
Reports of increased loneliness and mental anguish among nursing home residents during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have brought psychological wellbeing into greater focus. The mental impact of isolation among nursing home residents has also translated into accelerated physical and mental health decline, according to an Altarum study.
Along with psychiatric consultation and other mental health services, the “As You Wish” program is another tool a local nursing home is using to work toward positive clinical outcomes by looking at the whole person.
Improving overall resident wellbeing, beyond medical needs, is the goal of the program, McQullien said. She tells the staff at LSS The Good Shepherd: “If you guys hear a resident say, ‘Oh I wish I could…’ call me and let me know — no matter how big, no matter how little.”
The program has completed 35 wishes since it began, McQullien said.
McQullien said they have fulfilled wishes of various sizes, from sporting games, to a fancy dinner with a partner, to a car ride to the home a resident grew up in.
“Our very first wish was taking a school teacher back to a class,” McQullien said. “She wanted to read to the little kids again.”
LSS The Good Shepherd funds these wishes through fundraising efforts, such as food sales at local sports games as well as donations, most commonly from families of residents.
“You can’t wait,” McQullien said, regarding fulfilling wishes. “I can’t say, ‘Oh well we’ll do an As You Wish every four months.’ If a resident is in a nursing home, we don’t know if they have four months. So whenever I hear about it, I set those wheels in motion and get it done as soon as possible.”
McQullien said fulfilling Brehm’s wish was one of the most fun wishes she has fulfilled to date. McQullien took Brehm to the mall in Mansfield, and they hopped from store to store trying on and purchasing clothes, makeup and jewelry. The day of the “wish” also included a trip to see family, including family pets.
“Mom wanted to show me what she got, but she more(so) wanted to see the dog,” Loftis said with a laugh. “I mean it was nice I was there, but, you know, the dog was more important.”
Other nursing homes and senior centers nearby use similar methods to allow older residents a chance to continue to engage in activities they enjoy, even while they may need additional assistance.
The Ashland County Senior Center, for example, provides community services and social, recreational, educational and cultural activities for people over 55 years of age. Activities include one-day bus trips, which younger community members and relatives can also attend, to places such as theaters, museums and restaurants.
A nearby nursing home in Galion, Ohio, Mill Creek Nursing and Rehab, has fulfilled birthday wishes in ways similar to LSS The Good Shepherd. For instance, the nursing home director took a resident who used to train racehorses for a living on a trip to a horse-training facility.
Across the United States, numerous wish-granting programs directed at aging populations have sprung up in recent years.
A Minnesota hospital’s “Just One WISH” program grants wishes of residents in its long-term care facility, ranging from memory wishes such as visiting a friend they have been unable to see for a decade, to needs-based wishes to enhance quality of life such as getting a new blanket.
On a national level, a program called the Dream Foundation works to grant end-of-life dreams. The Dream Foundation specifically fulfills wishes of older adults who are diagnosed with a terminal illness with a life expectancy of 12 months or less, and lack the resources to fulfill the dream themselves.
In 2019, Three Wishes of Ruby’s Residents was created to grant small wishes to seniors in long-term care across the U.S.
While the size and exact target audience of these programs vary, each operate with the goal to continue to improve wellbeing and general happiness near the end of life.
Loftis, who works in long-term care herself, said she believes the “As You Wish” program aids residents’ happiness, especially for those who may not have family nearby to visit.
“I think what’s so cool about it is it makes them feel special for that short time that they’re shopping, or whatever they’re doing,” Loftis said.
Both sisters said they hope McQullien and the “As You Wish” program is still at LSS The Good Shepherd when it comes time for them to live in a nursing facility.
“Everybody needs a kind of pampering of sorts, whether it’s physical pampering or emotional pampering,” Crabtree said.