Hillcrest and Woods Health Services Innovators Rewriting the Script on Resident Care

November 29, 2017
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From left, Jennifer Tsu, Pat Loizou and Ryan Harrison are rewriting the script on how health care should be delivered.

LA VERNE, California, November 29, 2017 — Look for the next great screenplays to come not out of Hollywood, but La Verne, where biologists and gerontologists, acting more like script supervisors than clinicians, are helping college students collect amazing stories of lives well lived by some of the town’s most senior citizens.


The University of La Verne students are recording, transcribing, documenting and giving witness to the individual stories of senior residents living at either Hillcrest Retirement Center or its skilled-nursing facility, Woods Health Services.


Oh, the stories they’ve heard!


One such interviewee, Pat Loizou, a Hillcrest resident and volunteer at Woods, recounted the arc of her life that took her from a humble farming community to the big city.


“You can imagine the adventures I experienced growing up on a small farm in Ohio and then moving to New York City to pursue a nursing career,” said the silver-haired Loizou, still carrying the radiant, wide-eyed glow and optimism of her youth.


Tragically, another University of La Verne student who had been recording the history of a Woods Health Services resident was killed last spring in an automobile accident. After learning about this last school project the student had been working on, the student’s family wanted to reach out to the Woods resident, only to be informed that the resident had also recently passed. Tied together by fate and the narrative left behind, the survivors of the interviewer and interviewee have since grown closer.


Project Genesis

The collection of stories, now numbering about 60, are part of an ongoing oral history project given birth to by Dr. Jennifer Tsui, a biologist at the University of La Verne, and Ryan Harrison, Director of Resident Life and Wellness at Hillcrest.


Their collaboration is part of a greater recalibration and revolution in the healthcare industry to shift patient care from a clinical model to person-centered care — from an institutional to an individual approach, where the patient is regarded as more than a room number and a case file,  but as someone with real value and a unique story behind his or her name.


While universities have done a good job teaching the hard sciences — human biology and, in particular, anatomy — Tsui and Harrison felt it was equally important to help students round those sharper academic edges with an immersive, social-psychological component.


“The overwhelming number of students who take this class will be going into the caring profession,” Tsui said, “so it’s vitally important that they understand how healthcare is actually delivered.”


“This project in many ways inoculates them from just getting swallowed up by the health care system,” Harrison added.


Besides getting just class credit, the students begin to build bonds with residents as well as intergenerational ties to the community they will soon be serving. It’s makes for a powerful  educational and emotional elixir.




For the residents, the engagement is life-affirming therapy.


“To be able to communicate and interact with young people was such fun,” Loizou said. “It keeps us young, and gives us hope for the future.


“For me, the experience was wonderful in helping me count my own blessings and making me realize how truly fortunate I have been in my life.”


The interviews also created a certain reckoning and honest accounting on the part of some residents.


Pat told her interviewer: “I’m really sorry that this is the way we left the world for you, but we did the best we could.”


After the interviews are completed, students transcribe and shape the data into digestible stories they share at an “event” with residents, staff and family members. Some of the accounts run a few paragraphs, others spread over pages.


Wide Distribution


Whatever the length, the student readers are able to capture the voice and enduring vitality of their much older counterparts.


Given the fragile health of some of the residents, not all are able to attend, so the stories are also circulated via newsletters and bulletins. Some of the stories also provide insights and anecdotes about the caregiving staff.


“Everyone at Woods gets a copy so they can read about their neighbor just down the hall or more about the person taking care of them,” Harrison said.


Tsui and Harrison are just scratching the surface of how powerful their story-gathering program can be. “We’re exploring other ways to give the stories maximum impact, so they don’t sit on a shelf and collect dust,” Harrison added.


One of those ways could be small bios attached to the door of each resident, giving a unique peek into the occupant’s storied history. “That would be much better than a room number with info that this is a person with diabetes recovering from a fall,” Harrison noted.


Whatever spin-offs the oral history project creates, one thing is clear. Content is king at Hillcrest and Woods, where new scripts are being written every day.


“One of the best benefits of this project,” Loizou said, “is that people are getting attention from another human being, which, I believe, is so important at this stage.”


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For all your real estate needs, Call Coll at 909.374.4744. Colleen Bennett is a longtime La Verne Realtor with Sotheby’s International Realty and also author of the popular real estate column found on LaVerneOnline.

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