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A Calling Of The Heart

Nov. 1, 2000
Five working days per week is a full schedule for most hygienists, especially if you have a six-year-old. If you`re also pregnant, it`s a really full schedule. Given this scenario, you`d probably be grateful, at the end of another long day, to retreat to the sanctuary of your own house, kick off your shoes, put up your feet, and relax.

Hygienist Christine Brooks combines a full-time practice with

motherhood and running an assisted-living facility for the elderly.

Cathy Hester Seckman

Five working days per week is a full schedule for most hygienists, especially if you have a six-year-old. If you`re also pregnant, it`s a really full schedule. Given this scenario, you`d probably be grateful, at the end of another long day, to retreat to the sanctuary of your own house, kick off your shoes, put up your feet, and relax.

That pleasant scenario doesn`t work for Ohio hygienist Christine Brooks, because her house is an assisted-living facility. When Chris comes home to Brooks House after a busy day at work, she might find retirees in the living room, visitors in the dining room, an EMT in the kitchen, and a fire inspector in the basement.

It`s not a quiet life - or a private one - but Chris thrives on it. "Life is too short," she asserts. "You can`t just sit around and wait for it to come to you, because it never does."

Brooks House Western Reserve Assisted Living opened in tiny Troy, Ohio, in May 2000, with Chris and her husband, Paul, as proprietors. Their first resident was 93-year-old Marie Solochier, Paul`s grandmother, affectionately known as "Baba."

But the road between Chris`s first entry into the workforce and the day she and Paul became the owners of Brooks House was a long and winding one. First, there were some career changes to work through.

"When I was young," Chris remembers, "I worked in a nursing home and a bank. Both those jobs prepared me for this, though I couldn`t have known it at the time."

She only decided on hygiene school after going through orthodontics and discovering that she liked the field. Chris is a 1991 graduate of Lakeland Community College and holds an associate`s degree in dental hygiene. Paul started out as a history and social studies teacher, but eventually settled into a career as a painting contractor. His firm is Saybrook House Inc., which also builds custom homes.

With the arrival of their daughter, Katelin, now 6, Chris and Paul decided to build their dream home. They moved in temporarily with Paul`s mother, but family logistics got complicated when Baba broke her hip. Paul`s grandmother needed a place to live where she could have help. She tried staying with the family, then moved to a nursing home, but no one was really satisfied with either arrangement. It was at that point that Chris had the first glimmers of an idea.

"We wanted Baba to live with us, but we all worked and she needed company. I had experience in a nursing home, and I had this urge to take care of people. I always have wanted to do this, but I didn`t realize it until Baba broke her hip. I started volunteering at assisted living homes, talking to the owners. I took Katelin along to see how she responded to the elderly. Because of my experience in banking, I knew about business plans, mortgages, and profit-and-loss statements. I looked into the EPA paperwork, and all the certifications. Then, I proposed the idea to my husband."

Paul liked the idea for several reasons. They`d own their own business and could live on site. They`d solve Baba`s immediate housing needs, and, in the future, there would be a place for their parents to come. All that was needed was a starting point ... and the starting point was obviously money. They sold their dream home.

"It was the right thing for us to do," Chris asserts. "We`re only here for a short time, and if you`re not using your life to the fullest, what`s it for?" She credits her husband with making the dream come true. "I don`t think any other husband would dedicate his life to what I wanted to do. It`s Paul`s dream now, too, and he`s wonderful at it."

The couple found a five-acre lot in rural Geauga County, surrounded by Amish farms and vacant city-owned property. Christine, with input from Baba, designed an assisted living facility, modeled after a family farmhouse, with a wraparound porch, tall windows, and panoramic vistas. "I thought we could accommodate a more family-like atmosphere here in a country setting. It`s not institutional at all."

It was a five-year process. "I took things step by step," Chris remembers. "I researched codes, certifications, and rules and regulations all by myself. I did the financing and the ordering; Paul did the labor - he`s so handy, he can do anything."

Brooks House has 9,100 square feet. Twelve resident rooms are on the first floor, and two more are on the walk-out basement level, where offices and a small gym are located. Chris, Paul, Katelin, and baby-to-be have a spacious apartment on the second floor.

The living room, dining room, and kitchen on the main floor are warm and welcoming, with hardwood floors to accommodate walkers. Antiques are scattered here and there, and comfortable, upholstered furniture surrounds the brick fireplace. Christine`s pride and joy is a handmade quilt, mounted in the dining room. It was made for her by co-workers. Remember, Chris continued to work five days a week as a hygienist during the years of paperwork, legwork, and nail-pounding that went into Brooks House.

"My patients have been like therapy through all this," she says. "I love working with people, and I have the two best offices in the world, with the most wonderful co-workers." Chris works Mondays through Thursdays for Denis Rubal, DDS, in Chardon, Ohio, and Saturdays for Martin Levine, DDS, in Solon, Ohio. Four employees at the Rubal office got together after work to make the quilt that is the centerpiece of the dining room.

In the future, Christine hopes to merge her two professions a little. "One thing I definitely want here is an ultrasonic cleaner for dentures. I would love to do more at Brooks House with hygiene, but it`ll take time with each resident. When residents arrive, it takes awhile for them to adjust and get on a schedule. After they`ve settled in, I`ll take a closer look and I might suggest a better home-care routine for their teeth."

Because it is an assisted-living facility, residents at Brooks House are pretty independent. They must be mobile and able to take care of themselves, though the staff assists with personal care. "We provide medication supervision, meals, laundry, housekeeping, and transportation. We also offer daily or respite care, and weekend care." The Brooks call their home "an alternative to premature institutional care, fostering companionship and social and recreational opportunities in a relaxed, home atmosphere."

It sounds great for the residents, but how is it for the owners? Chris and Paul do most of the work at Brooks House, from personal care, to paperwork, to figuring out the alarm system. They have no weekend staff at this point, so their lives are filled with work and more work. They haven`t taken a vacation for years.

"It`s not a hard thing to deal with. That might sound unbelievable, but it`s not. I guess if you want to do something, you don`t get too tired to do it. When I come home from work, I don`t even think about being tired, even though I`m pregnant. The residents are looking forward to good food and good conversation, and I have such a love for the elderly. It`s just how I am. I sit and talk to them, and it gives them comfort. Because I come home to people less fortunate than I am, I feel so thankful that I have two good legs and can help them."

Trying to explain her unusual life, Christine recalls a story of their first official day at Brooks House. "With our first resident, I helped her get ready for bed and tried to make her feel comfortable and at home. She looked up at me and said, `Christine, I love you.`

"You know, that just took the world off my shoulders. All those years of work and worry, and those three words made it worth it. It was very rewarding."

Cathy Hester Seckman, RDH, is a frequent contribuor to RDH who is based in Ohio.

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Brooks House, an adult care assisted-living facility that opened in Troy, Ohio, this year, is owned and operated by hygienist Christine Brooks and her husband, Paul.

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Christine Brooks, left, poses with the home`s first resident, Marie Solochier (seated), her husband`s 93-year-old grandmother. With them are two people who help make Brooks House a unique place for residents - Chris`s daughter, Katelin, and Alexandra Whiteman, daughter of staff member Tabitha Whiteman.

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A centerpiece of the dining room at Brooks House is this quilt, handmade for Chris by her co-workers at the office of Denis Rubal, DDS. The quilters were Beth Hawkins, Carmelin Fatiea, Robin Trimboli, and Tami Koblek.