Home Is Where The Heart Is

welcomehomeLYNDONVILLE- As I arrived at Welcome Home, Karen Thompson was immediately outside, greeting me with a hug and assisting with my equipment. Her hospitality was instantly present. It was comfortable, it felt like home.

Thompson opened Welcome Home, an assisted living organization, on May 5th, 2017. Her mission being to care for those who can no longer care for themselves.

 "This is a manifestation of experiences that I've had my entire life with our older generations," she said. Going on to discuss her family's history with dementia. "There isn't a quality facility in the state of Vermont that I'm aware of that I would put my parents in if they needed to go. So I built one."

Currently, Thompson is housing four residents because to her, four people makes a family. 

As we walked into her living room she approached a resident watching television. She then turned to me, saying that the woman could no longer hear well. Proceeding to crouch down to the woman's height, Thompson looked her in the eyes and said, "I love you." The woman's eyes sparkled and she clapped her hands, acknowledging Thompson's love and sharing an affection of her own.

"The people I care for are 25 years old inside, but their brains are dictating them to do things that they no longer have a choice over. But you can't cater to that. You have to cater to the person that is still inside, and learn how to care for what their brains are telling them to do. And that's not difficult. It's empathy."

To put into words the bonds shared between Thompson and her residents is nearly impossible. Her work is her heart, and that became easily recognizable as she walked about the house, saying hello to everyone, sharing a laugh, or singing a song.

But despite all of the good that Thompson has brought to the community, she's facing numerous legal obstacles with the state. According to mandatory regulations, since Thompson has taken in more than two residents unrelated to herself, she must be licensed and subject to certain requirements. These include things like an in-house sprinkler system, an electronic alarm system, and even smaller things like monthly food menues.

With everything included, Thompson is looking at a budget exceeding $100,000, and that's not funding she has access to. Nor does she feel she should be required to comply with due to the small size of her business. For example, she points out that foster homes can have up to seven children without needing a sprinkler system, and therefore questions why it would be required for her household of four.

That being said, Thompson states that this isn't the end of her effort to care for her residents. This is just the beginning. Last week, she and Senator Jane Kitchel arranged a roundtable discussion with other State Representatives to talk about alternative solutions. Thompson shared her motivation for caring for her residents, repeatedly asking that those in attendance not mistake her passion for anger.

Ultimately, most of the group believed her genuine motive, but it came down to the question of passion's ability to triumph over an established rule-set. "You can feel passionately, and people do. It's the ability to create a rational proposal. Unless you go to a committee in a certain way, you won't get to where you want to be," said Kitchel.

Her sister Catherine Toll in compliance, stating that changes can't be made in order to make something easier. They instead need to be made to better the current system.

According to Thompson, betterment is exactly what she wants. Moving forward, the representatives have encouraged her to revise the regulations into a format that she and community members see as fair and rational. "I'm going to convince 180 legislatures across the state that this is wrong. Get the compassion out," she said.

In a concluding statement, Thompson took a moment to recognize the hard work of caretakers across the state. Stating that her effort to revise the current regulations is much bigger than her household alone. "It's me, it's you, it's we," she said. Despite her moments of passion, she explained that her intention is not to discredit those that do work within larger assisted living facilities, but instead to better their ability to provide empathetic care. A care that in her opinion, is being compromised by the current regulations.

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