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Back from the brink: Shard Villa at capacity, wins award

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Posted on October 7, 2010 |
By John Flowers



web_shardvilla1516.jpg
SHARD VILLA EXECUTIVE Director Deb Choma has received a statewide award in recognition of her leadership of the elder care home, which only last year was slated for closure. Independent photo/Trent Campbell.

MIDDLEBURY — The Shard Villa residential care home continues its dramatic recovery from near closure last year. The historic mansion is now at capacity with 17 senior residents and its top administrator recently received a statewide award for her stewardship of the facility.

“We have a full house and are doing very well,” said Shard Villa Executive Director Deb Choma, who was named the 2010 Residential Care Administrator of the Year by the Vermont Health Care Association (VHCA). The VHCA represents the interests of for-profit and nonprofit long-term care providers.

“If you believe in your dream, it will come true,” Choma added.

Only 18 months ago, Shard Villa’s plight was more like a bad dream for the many boosters and board members trying to sustain the 91-year-old operation through a period of financial uncertainty.

A majority of a previous Shard Villa board of trustees voted on Feb. 16, 2009, to at least temporarily close the historic building’s care home that spring, citing financial woes and the facility’s inability to offer more modern amenities that are increasingly becoming the norm in the retirement home industry.

But supporters contended the serenity of the Shard Villa locale on a rural back road in Salisbury and the quality of its staff made it a popular draw in spite of its comparative lack of 21st-century amenities.

Some board members and the families of then-Shard Villa residents contested the proposed closure plan in Addison County Probate Court. A court-approved settlement resulted in installation of a new slate of trustees to take on the task of navigating the elder care home through some very choppy financial waters.

It has been a successful voyage thus far.

Shard Villa’s resident count — once down to two — rebounded to eight in July of 2009 and is now maxed-out at 17. There is currently a waiting list of eight prospective residents, according to Shard Villa board member Alice Thrailkill. The clients hail primarily from Vermont, are in their 80s or 90s, and have either been referred to Shard Villa by area physicians or human service agencies or heard of the place by word of mouth, according to Choma. The home has its own Web site, www.shardvilla.org.

With a full house, Shard Villa directors are preparing to get some much needed maintenance work done on the residential wing of the mansion. That work, according to board member John Egner, will include some new windows, roof renovations, additional insulation, some room repairs and an upgrade of the heating system.

Shard Villa officials will also apply for grant money to ensure preservation of the spectacular Italian wall murals in the mansion. Egner noted the steam heat used in the building “creates some problems with the artwork,” so officials hope to secure financial aid to tackle that problem.

Choma and her board are exploring the possibility of boosting Shard Villa’s coffers by renting out its grounds for occasional weddings, meetings and other special events.

In the meantime, Choma and her staff will continue to watch over their clients and enjoy the recent accolades from the VHCA.

“I was totally taken by surprise,” Choma said of her reaction to hearing about the “administrator of the year” award. “I was flabbergasted.”

She stressed that she would not have earned the honor without the help of fellow Shard Villa workers, including her husband, David, head of buildings and grounds.

“What makes me successful is the support of my husband and my team,” Choma said.

Laura Pelosi, executive director of VHCA, said Choma received the award not only for her role in reviving Shard Villa, but also for being a statewide leader in the health-care field.

In addition to being a nurse educator at Castleton State College, Choma has served on the board of the National Center for Assisted Living and is a certified dementia care practitioner trainer.

“We are really excited (Choma) got this award and we are really proud Shard Villa is doing very well,” Thrailkill said. “It is a beautiful place and we were right to have faith in it.”

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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