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As long term care centers shutter, Custer reopens facility

Sam Van Voorst sits with Irene, the first resident at the revived Custer Care and Rehab Center
C.J. Keene
Sam Van Voorst sits with Irene, the first resident at the revived Custer Care and Rehab Center

Senior care centers are closing in communities from the Black Hills to the Minnesota border, but Custer managed to rally and preserve their local home.

The center closed two years ago. Community leaders began looking for a different provider – eventually finding Caring Professionals, an organization that specializes in managing facilities in small communities.

Sam Van Voorst is the regional administrator with Caring Professionals. He works with long-term centers across the state but is slow to take credit for Custer’s revived space.

"As excited as I am that I got to work on this project and that I got to help reopen this facility, a lot of the credit goes to the community here and the time, effort and financial backing given to do a project like this," Van Voorst said. "A majority of towns would not be able to, nor have the people that would peruse something like this. I mean, Custer was part of the trend of a closing nursing home.”

Often though, communities don’t rally, and these homes close for good. Van Voorst said that has real repercussions for residents.

"It’s important they have somewhere to go within their own community where they’re going to be close to family and friends and the place they grew up in or lived at which was so important to them," Van Voorst said. "It makes you realize how important these small rural communities are that you can’t send someone a half hour, hour away always. They wouldn’t be able to go see their loved ones, and their loved ones can’t see them, and what quality of life is that at the end?”

He said support is essential to keep the wheels turning at these facilities, but it doesn’t always need to be financial.

“Volunteer and just be involved in the nursing home as much as possible," Van Voorst said. "The more community involvement you have the more success your nursing home is going to have. Even if it’s a craft or a project, you can do baking or something like that, or people that play piano and sing and do performances to make sure we’re giving as much quality of life as we can for these residents.”

Van Voorst says he prioritizes the happiness of residents in his facilities.

For Irene, the first full time resident at the reopened center, that means a quiet morning playing scrabble with the blinds wide open to a beautiful Black Hills view.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture