By TORY DENIS
Special to the Eagle Times
WINDSOR, Vt. — Cedar Hill Continuing Care Community has seen three decades of positive change and innovation in many forms, and three generations of owner Mary Louise Sayles’s family, since the facility was purchased in 1988.
This year, the award-winning Cedar Hill celebrates 30 years of serving the community with a complete continuum of care at the Village at Cedar Hill, Judith Brogren Memory Care Center and Cedar Hill Health Care Center, with a full activities calendar, up-to-date environmental practices, fresh and local home-made meals, and a variety of personalized options for residents.
The Vermont family-owned company was founded in 1988 by Mary Louise Sayles and Judith Brogren, who expanded and upgraded the former 31-bed Cedar Manor nursing Nursing Home, a Victorian mansion that was in poor condition, but with a large property that held much promise.
Mary Louise and Judith, both employed at Sullivan County Nursing Home in Unity, New Hampshire at the time, had much bigger plans for their new business. They sold all their belongings, moved into a mobile home on the property, and with the help of a Small Business Administration loan, they purchased the property and got to work. Over the years they added Cedar Hill Health Care Center, a 39-bed skilled nursing home and rehab center; completely renovated the original Victorian house, converting it to a Level- Three Residential Care Facility; and built and later expanded The Village at Cedar Hill, which includes the Memory Care Center, transforming the sprawling campus that sits on the property now.
Today, Cedar Hill is still owned by a dual-generation team, Sayles and her daughter, Community Executive Director Patricia Horn.
Mary Louise, Patricia, and Patricia’s older daughter Elena Preece, 17, gathered to talk about the Cedar Hill community recently.
Patricia and her older sister Maria Horn, the eldest of three, had been involved with Cedar Hill for many years, Mary Louise said.
“I felt it was very important for my daughters to know about the business,” said Sayles, who is the daughter of Italian Immigrants. “So that if anything happens to me,” she said, “they would understand the responsibility of having so many lives under your roof.”
Sayles involved her daughters in financial work and projects, with the hope that one day one of them may want to take over the business.
In 1988 as Mary Louise and Judith were preparing to start the business, Maria was a licensed nursing home administrator at Goodwins of Exeter, working with William Gilmore, one of the early pioneers in developing assisted living options for elderly residents.
At the time, many elderly people had fewer choices on where to live as they aged. They could share a small apartment with a roommate or move into a nursing home, for instance. This was in the early days of continuing care as an option, and Cedar Hill would offer a chance to “age in place,” Mary Louise said.
Maria and Mary Louise worked together to help create and shape the early vision for what the neighborhoods of Cedar Hill would look like, spending many hours talking about the budding new concept of “Continuing Care,” and how offering different levels of care for seniors with various needs could enable them to get whatever care they needed without having to leave the grounds. If someone in an assisted living apartment had a stroke or broke a hip, they could receive skilled nursing care and rehabilitation right there on the same campus until they were well enough to go back to their apartment. Maria went on to serve on the board of Cedar Hill.
“Now there are more options,” Mary Louise said. And in the long run, “it has reduced the stigma of long-term care.”
When Mary Louise and Judy purchased the business, they renamed it “Cedar Hill Continuing Care Community,” and hired a contractor to renovate the old home. Judith took charge of the nursing department and staff education, and Mary Louise became the licensed administrator for the home.
They opened the brand new 39-bed Cedar Hill Health Care Center in September 1994; and re-opened the completely renovated Victorian House Residence in 1995; opened the first phase of The Village at Cedar Hill for Independent and Assisted Living with 20 apartments in 1999; and a second phase, with 20 additional apartments, and a 20-bed Memory Care Center in 2015.
Judith retired in 2005, moving to North Carolina. She passed away in 2013, and the Memory Care Center was named in her honor. Maria lost her life to cancer in 2004. The North Village Expansion wing, opened in 2015, was dedicated in her name.
Patricia, a former news journalist in Philadelphia, eventually moved to Windsor in 2008 and became a licensed nursing home administrator, a position she held until two years ago at CHCCC. She is now the Community Executive Director.
“I was thrilled when Patricia wanted to come into the business,” Sayles said. “I thought it would give us some time working together before, or if, I ever really retired.”
Although they do not agree on everything, which they both admitted with a laugh, “it’s been a joy having her on board,” Sayles said. Both understand the importance of working out solutions, they said.
Patricia said that when she was growing up, her mother worked in nursing homes, and would bring her to work, even sitting in on meetings.
“I learned to be very comfortable in that environment,” she said. Eventually, she became a dietary aide and an LNA before moving into her career as a writer.
Patricia said working in a multi-generational business can be difficult, but that it is wonderful.
“She’s the boss. We speak our mind and try to make the best decisions,” Patricia said. Having known each other all their lives, they know how to work things out, and continue to learn from one another, she added. “And it’s great to have Elena here.”
Mary Louise also notes that in a long career, with times of stress and difficulty, going to work has always been “the best thing for me,” knowing that she needed to be positive, and put things aside to focus on the well-being of the people in her care. “It’s one of the benefits of this profession,” she said. Patricia added that though it is a serious profession, it’s important to “bring a sense of joy with you,” and instill that in employees as well.
Elena is part of the third generation to take an interest in senior care. She started working this summer in the Activities Department at Cedar Hill.
Working at Cedar Hill is “like having 30 new grandparents,” Elena said. “I just fell in love with it.”
Today, Mary Louise, Patricia, their husbands, and Patricia’s daughters Elena and Anna Maria have connected homes on the campus. The community is built neighborhood-style and pet-friendly on 12 acres along the Connecticut River in scenic Windsor. With a total staff of about 100 now, it is nestled alongside a farm and is just a few miles from downtown Windsor, but surrounded by greenery, flower beds, and beautiful views.
Sue Spadaro, executive director for The Village at Cedar Hill, has been with the company for 20 years and said she has seen a lot of changes over the years, including the development of teams and changes in administration.
“I’ve always felt that Mary Louise has been a visionary,” she said.
One of the things that defines Mary Louise is that “she really cares about the well-being of people, and it’s not all about dollars and cents,” Spadaro said. She also said Mary Louise has been a mentor. “She taught me everything I know” about long-term care administration, she said.
Residents also spoke recently on what life is like at Cedar Hill, and why they enjoy living on the campus snuggled into the foothills of Mount Ascutney.
“They do everything for you. You just have time to enjoy yourself,” said Rita Bergeron, who has lived at Cedar Hill since November 2017, and is originally from Claremont, but lived for many years in Washington, D.C. “The activities here are excellent.”
Connecticut native and former teacher at Ascutney Middle School Muriel Rowland is one of the longest-term residents at Cedar Hill, having lived here for nearly seven years. A perfect example of the benefits of “Continuing Care,” both she and her late husband, Bob, who lived with her in the Village for two years before his passing, have lived in both the Village and the nursing home while recuperating from medical issues.
“I feel secure, and there are people my age that I can associate with,” she said. “There are all kinds of activities. One of my favorites was cribbage.” She was also a National Shuffleboard Champion in the 1990s, she noted proudly.
Longtime volunteers Rick Monarque of Ascutney and Terry Ryan of Springfield were playing music on a recent Friday. Monarque also volunteers every Friday playing music or helping to serve or playing “cards with the ladies,” and the two musicians have been playing together at Cedar Hill for about eight years, about six times a year.
“I love coming up here to play,” Ryan said.
In addition to locally pioneering the concept of Continuing Care, other innovative changes over the past 30 years included the introduction of environmentally friendly initiatives, such as compost practices in compliance with Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law (Act 148), which bans, in phases, the disposal of three major types of waste materials commonly found in Vermonters’ trash bins.
Their Food Waste Composting program is just a part of Cedar Hill’s long history of innovation and social and environmentally conscious initiatives over the past 30 years.
The campus has had solar for its hot water system for more than 10 years, and the owners are just beginning a project to add a large solar array to provide the vast majority of electricity on the campus, which will also enable them to send the solar power to the Green Mountain Power grid and be credited for that solar power. Cedar Hill also switched from oil to propane, put in more energy-efficient boilers, and added heat pump technology in both buildings.
Energy innovations abound on the campus. In 2017, Cedar Hill invested in a Chevy Bolt, solely an electric car, which can charge on campus and be used for administrative travel, for labs, or for meetings. They also purchased a hybrid vehicle for The Village, to take residents to appointments. Both will help reduce emissions from transportation and save money on gas.
Even with decades of change and innovation, some gentle reminders of the original property are still visible. For instance, two cedars still stand, one at each end, from the original row of cedar trees planted along the front sunroom of the original nursing home.
Many employees have brought their own family members to live at Cedar Hill over the years.
“Not only did Mary Louise have her own mother and mother-in-law here, but Judy Brogren’s mother was also, and many other employees have had relatives here as well,” said Melissa Snyder, Director of Marketing. “When they hired me in 2014, we all joked about how funny it would be if I ended up bringing my mother up here from North Carolina, something I never thought would happen in a million years. Next thing I know, less than four months after the Grand Opening in February 2015, I was doing just that! The ability for her to bring her dog and cat to her own apartment was what clinched it for her. I don’t think there’s any better testimonial than that!”
The Community offers complete care that supports all stages of life, all on one campus with several neighborhoods. Care includes Independent and Assisted Living in private apartments at The Village; specialized state-of-the-art memory care in a secure and stimulating environment at the Judith Brogren Memory Care Center; and short-term rehabilitation and skilled nursing home, short-term respite care, as well as hospice care at Cedar Hill Health Care Center and regular “house calls” by a team of board-certified physicians, psychiatrist and therapists.
Specialized services include on-site nursing care, medication management, clinical coordination, physical, cognitive and speech rehabilitation.
Services also include housekeeping and laundry, home-made meals prepared fresh by chefs, 24-hour care and assistance by trained staff, and a full social activities calendar that includes field trips and social outings.
Head gardener Lois Bromley-Ellison, an independent contractor from Windsor, has been filling the gardens with blooms for 11 years. “It’s a labor of love,” she laughs.
A Centenarians’ Club celebrates the community’s residents, and a long-running Adopt-a-Grandparent program is still going strong, 30 years after it began in 1988.
Cedar Hill also works with River Valley Tech Center to offer a licensed nursing assistant and nursing training program, hopes to put into place an online LNA program, and is working to develop a scholarship program.
To learn more or to visit for a tour, call Cedar Hill at (802) 674-6609 or visit www. cedarhillccc.com.
This story originally appeared in the Eagle Times on September 29, 2018.