Person of the Week
Kate Blais: Dignity and Grace at the Strong House
Kate Blais's dedication to the elderly and those with mental-health challenges is unmistakable: as a registered nurse and director of the Strong House, she treats them with compassion and honors them with a Person of the Month feature in the facility's newsletter. (Photo by Maria Caulfield/The Source | Buy This Photo)
Kate Blais welcomes visitors to her office on the second floor, a large room that looks more like a bedroom with high ceilings, spotless carpeting, large windows, and a brick fireplace. She speaks softly with a soothing and calm demeanor but perks up ever so slightly when she talks about working with the elderly at the Strong House, an adult day-care center on Route 79 (Durham Road) in Madison.
The Strong House’s name belies its atmosphere. Its interior is decorated much like a home with cozy rooms, comfortable furniture, and warm décor—hence, the ambiance of Kate’s office.
Kate wears two hats at the Strong House: She is the director and a registered nurse (RN), one of three at the facility. Her nursing skills and reassuring, gentle manner make her ideal to serve the elderly in her dual roles.
Perhaps her greatest asset to the clients of the Strong House is her devotion to the specific demographic she serves. She reveals that her passion has always been to work with the elderly and those who suffer from mental health disorders such as dementia.
“I have a long background in taking care of people who have chronic mental illness, like schizophrenia and bipolar” disorder, she explains.
Kate understands the elderly and mental-health patients with perhaps more clarity than most.
“They’re so brave,” she says of people with mental health challenges. “They just face day to day, even going into the grocery store, just trying to concentrate on what they need to buy because they hear or have hallucinations. They hear these voices distracting them. It’s just things that we take for granted.”
A former longtime resident of Madison, Kate worked in Deep River from 2004 to 2014 at Pastimes, an adult day care center she owned and operated in much the same way as the Strong House. She has since closed Pastimes and worked at Gilead Community Services from 2012 to 2017 as an RN in an adult residential program in Clinton and an adolescent group home in Old Saybrook.
Today she lives in Deep River with her husband, Michael. She also has three grown children, Sara, Neil, and Justin.
In December 2017, Kate took the leadership role at the Strong House when her friend and former Strong House director Lori Murphy retired from the post.
The Strong House serves the community on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Families caring for an elderly member may drop off their loved one or use the bus service. Kate points out that clients come from as far as Niantic.
The cost for a day at the Strong House is $95 not including the bus, which adds another $5 each way. Breakfast and a full-course lunch are included as well as recreation programs, daily health monitoring, and personal care. She appreciates the Strong House’s affiliation with the Visiting Nurse Association Community Healthcare & Hospice (VNA) and the services it provides—from the administrative support it gives the facility to the various mental health and wellness programs it provides to the general public.
The programs at the Strong House are interesting, if not downright engaging: John Travolta Day includes a game of Travolta Trivia, Women Scientist Day involves a game of naming women inventors, and President’s Day incorporates an activity of presidential facts and trivia and a session of patriotic exercising. Trips are also scheduled as well as indoor entertainment.
Kate points out that music is vital to patients with dementia and other mental health problems.
“I think it is said that as you get older, the music that you listen to, from age 13 to age 17, is the music that you’ll never forget. So, we tend to play…a lot of oldies songs,” she says.
She also explains that being in an adult day care center is mutually beneficial for the caregiver and the elderly.
She says an adult day care provides caregivers “that break to hopefully take care of themselves,” adding that many caregivers “neglect their own health, and then they end up being very sick.”
Kate also points out that an adult day care can delay the progression of mental illnesses such as dementia because it gives an elderly person a routine to follow.
“When people start to get symptoms of dementia, they may just sit at home and every day seems like the next day or the day before because there’s no point of reference. So, when you come out into an environment such as this, every day is different. There’s all these activities [and] socialization is big,” she says.
“Everything we are able to accomplish at the Strong House is because of our dedicated and caring team. There is a lot that goes into providing the exceptional care that our clients receive,” she notes.
Person of the Month
Kate’s dedication to the clients of the Strong House is unmistakable. Even as she speaks of her background for the Person of the Week story, she draws attention to the Strong House’s Person of the Month, a tradition to recognize a chosen client by featuring his or her story in a newsletter and posting it in the facility’s foyer.
She realizes that the elderly may not have the ability or the memory to articulate his or her background, so with the help of a client’s family, she makes an effort to document a client’s past.
She explains that it is “to honor (clients) so that if they’re no longer able to tell about their history, we all know so we’re not just looking at someone as they are now. We’re able to see them as they were.”
She also likes to honor veterans and laments the inevitable passing away of the World War II generation.
“The World War II generation is pretty much phasing out, unfortunately. So we value any World War II vets that we have there. I mean, they’re so valuable because they can tell us a lot,” she says.
Serving the clients at the Strong House comes with many times of joy. Birthdays are occasions to celebrate a client’s milestone and the facility encourages family members to bring a cake to share with other clients.
But the moments of sadness also happen.
“We measure our success with smiles from our clients, hugs from our clients, and even tears because we do have people who pass that have been here. They don’t pass here, but many people who passed away have been coming here,” she says. “We grieve their passing. But the other part of it is that we know that we took care of them well.”
For more information about the Strong House, call 203-245-0524 or visit www.stronghousect.org.
To nominate a Person of the Week, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.