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For Derek Sandlin, details, caring environment make space feel like home for residents.

DESIREE BERGSTROM/MADRAS PIONEER - Derek Sandlin, executive director of Chinook Place, sits at a small dining table in one of the home's apartments. Sandlin, who is blind, rides a bus to and from work every day, from his home in Bend.Chinook Place is meant to be a home, a place where residents have a life and don't feel like they are merely there for a brief stay.

Much of the feeling of home, according to Chinook Place's executive director, Derek Sandlin, is in the details.

"It's about the environment that we create, I guess the physical environment and the emotional environment," he said.

Sandlin — who is blind and rides the bus from his home in Bend each day to work — tells his team, "Love these residents and like each other, and when we come through that door, we are walking in to somebody's home."

Part of the environment they create is having activities, outings and exercise throughout the week. Sandlin said they play bingo and have some form of exercise every day. Residents go shopping one day a week and add in other activities, as well.

On Friday, the community hosted the Chamber of Commerce Coffee Cuppers, which meets every week in a different place around the community, in their living room.

Sandlin began his work at Chinook Place nearly a year ago and he said there have been some changes since then, mentioning he couldn't speak for what things were like before his arrival.

"We started with what you can see," he said about the change. "The mantle in the front, when I started, was a lot of dollar store thumb-tacked-up decorations. I went and bought that clock and all the other decorations that are up there, except the two little owls that are up there; my boss put those there," he said.

"At my house, I wouldn't have a little banner that says 'Spring Time' from the Dollar Tree hanging on my mantle," he said. "We wanted to make it homey."

Sandlin is dedicated to making sure that residents have a positive and caring experience at Chinook Place, a dedication that stems from a personal family experience.

"Prior to doing this, my entire working life was collections, fraud (investigation), some sales," he said. "I got in to doing this five or six years ago now ... because of my parents."

There came a point when Sandlin's parents needed to be moved into a facility similar to Chinook Place, so he and one of his sisters toured somewhere between eight and 12 facilities with them, finally settling on one they though would be a good fit.

Sandlin's father at the time was dealing with Alzheimer's and his mother had very early dementia.

After living in the community for a while, Sandlin's mother told him that when the staff came into their apartment to dispense their medications, they were not friendly. She told him they came in to the room, put the pills in their hands, passed the same glass of water between them and left without saying a word. No "Hello." No "How is your morning?" Nothing.

Sandlin was skeptical at first that it had happened as his mother said because of her slight dementia, until he saw it for himself on a visit. The family ended up moving their parents to another facility.

It wasn't until that move that Sandlin realized things could be different.

Five years ago, Sandlin's father was put on hospice and Sandlin went to sit with him for several days.

"I drove down there and I stayed with him for five days before he passed," he said, noting that he didn't sleep for nearly the whole five days.

"The third night, I was in the room with him. I would talk to him and hold his hand, and he couldn't communicate; he could just squeeze my hand," he said.

"About 3 o'clock in the morning, a light flipped on ... and this young guy walks in. He's about 25, and he had on blue jeans and a T-shirt that said United States Air Force."

"I said, 'Who are you?' And he said, 'I am one of the med-techs here.'"

Sandlin proceeded to ask where the med-tech's scrubs were and found out he wasn't working that night. Instead, he had come to see Sandlin's father on his own time. The man was in the Air Force reserves and held the same rank that Sandlin's father had and was doing the modern equivalent of the job he had done.

The young man said to Sandlin, "I was on my reserve weekend and when I got my phone back, they told me your dad was passing, so I drove here before I went home."

"That's what made me go: This can be different," Sandlin said. "That is why I got into doing this, because every one of these residents is somebody's mom, somebody's grandmother, somebody's father, an aunt or an uncle."

"It's a business about people and relationships," he said. "When I hire, I hire not somebody who can do the task, but somebody who cares, because you can teach somebody a task, but you can't teach somebody to care."

While Chinook Place has 27 rooms available, they currently only have 18 residents. They are working to get up to capacity, Sandlin said, but he is more concerned about making sure their community is the right fit for people.

"This may not be the right place for some people, and that's OK, but how can we help them find the right place?" he asked.

Care at Chinook Place is broken down differently than other places, Sandlin explained. In other facilities, residents pay for levels of care that include a list of services no matter if they use them or not.

At Chinook, it is based on a point system. If a resident needs help going to the restroom, there are points for that and it is factored into the cost, but if a resident doesn't need assistance with that, then the resident doesn't pay for it.

At the end of the day, Sandlin said, "I truly love what I do and it's because of the people."

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