Carleen Gulke’s 7-year-old triplets are excited for the newest addition to their family.
“They’ll ask, ‘When do we get someone new to take care of?’ ” Gulke said.
The newest resident is expected to move into their adult family home Monday. Gulke and her longtime colleague, Jeannie Gettman, are both licensed practical nurses and can provide everything from skilled nursing to hospice care for the residents. The thing that’s really striking at Gulke Manor is the essential adoption of residents into the family.
“When they come here, they’re part of the family,” Gulke said. “They get a choice in what we eat and how we do things. It’s their home, too.”
Gulke was recently licensed to host up to four residents in her spacious, beautifully renovated home on Monte Brady Road. Her husband, Dan, and dad, Carl Foster, pitched in for the updates and the triplets, Hunter, Emma and Hailee, love to spend time with the residents.
With their most recent guest, Gulke said the kids loved to read and practice the piano with her. A few resident cats, dogs and chickens round out the family.
“Just to live in a home with those things around them makes a huge difference,” Gulke said. “Their faces light up” while spending time with the kids.
Trying something new
After 20 years providing long-term care at nursing facilities, Gulke started to think about better ways to serve her patients.
“I just wasn’t feeling good about what I was doing,” she recalled. “I said, ‘There’s got to be a way to do this better.’ “
She told Gettman, her colleague and friend since 2001, she was coming home to Montesano to start her own family home.
“I said, ‘I’m coming too!’ ” Gettman recalled with a laugh.
Gettmen spent most of her life in the Seattle and Renton areas. Making the switch to small-town life has been an adjustment. But being part of the kind of care Gulke wants to provide, “It’s totally worth it.”
“They’re people, not patients,” Gulke explained. “It just seems to be the norm anymore. It’s all very corporate. Everyone’s kind of a number.”
When she started her career as a nursing assistant at age 18, she thought she wanted to become a pediatric nurse. After trying that and many other rotations during her nursing training, she realized she was most drawn to caring for older patients.
“There’s so much to learn from them. They were such a hard-working generation,” Gulke said.
Gettman made the switch from psychiatric patient care because she found long-term care more fulfilling.
“If I could put a smile on someone’s face, or hold someone’s hand while they’re dying, I feel like I’ve made a difference,” Gettman said.
Gettman’s 6-year-old daughter, Sara, often comes to pitch in. To Gulke, she and her family gain as much from caring for their residents as they give to care for them.
“They way we explain it (to the kids) is it’s our job to take care of them,” she said. “It teaches them empathy, and it’s not all about them. … It’s important for them to listen to their stories and learn what the world used to be like.”
Gulke’s mom, Eileen Foster, lives across the road and often helps out around the house with activities such as baking with the residents.
At first, she had some trepidation about the kind of support her daughter would need to make her dream home a reality. Foster recalled talking to one man whose story of his wife’s time in a nursing home truly touched her.
“He said they let her die,” Foster said. “There just wasn’t enough staff. It just about tore me apart. … Through lots of prayer and lots and lots of discussion, it’s all fallen into place. It’s like it was just meant to be.”
After working together so long, Gulke and Gettman make an easy team.
“We finish each other’s sentences, one is doing something and the other just knows what needs to be done. We care for the residents in much the same way,” Gettman said.
“I see different qualities in each one, and together they make a whole,” Foster said.
Once the house is more fully occupied, they’ll bring in assistants to help out, but for now, the easygoing nurses are ready to care for their guests on their own.
“They get to make their own decisions about their lives on a daily basis. It’s not a set routine. … I think that’s important,” Gulke said. “It makes it a little harder, but that’s the whole point. If it wasn’t harder it wouldn’t be different.”
“Something unique like this is really special,” Foster said. “There’s this huge warmth you don’t find in a hospital setting.”
Gulke hopes to have two beds for women and two for men.
“A lot of places take ladies but not men, They need a place to go, too,” Gulke said.
Rates for residents will vary based on specific care needs, but most care is covered for $3,500 a month.
For more information, visit www.gulkemanor.com or call 360-249-8060.
“The best thing to do is call and come out for a tour and see for yourself,” Gulke said.