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There was a time, less than a year ago, when David Shankel wanted to die.

He and his wife, Patsy, came to Castle Peak Senior Life and Rehabilitation Center in Eagle following individual stays in the hospital after they both had gotten very sick. While Patsy, sadly, passed away in March, Shankel is still very much alive and living at Castle Peak, after going through an emotionally difficult time.

The memory is quite vivid for Shankel, 81. He didn’t want to get out of bed; he didn’t want to live. Then he met Stephanie Sheridan, the life enrichment director at Castle Peak, whom he credits with saving his life.

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“I told her I wanted to die. She said, ‘Not today, not on my watch.’ She told me ‘David, you’re going to get out of that bed’ and she didn’t say please. I credit her with keeping me alive.

“They keep me going,” he says. “They’re all very generous with their love and care for me. They make sure I’m exercising and eating properly. I feel like I have a mother almost.” The Shankels moved to Eagle County in 1974, after David retired from the Air Force where he used to fly C130s, airplanes he knew “from top to bottom,” he says. The couple opened the Gypsum Café on Highway 6 and Valley Road, owning it for 10 years before their son took it over and ran it for another 10 years before they sold it. It was back around the time the couple first moved to town that people, like the recently deceased Dr. Tom Steinberg, Vail’s first full-time physician, started advocating for affordable nursing care options for older folks. But it would take another four decades before that vision became a reality.

“Dr. Steinberg had envisioned having a facility like Castle Peak since the ’70s,” says Monica McCarroll, Castle Peak’s director of marketing. “He worked for years to bring it into existence. He was one of the many financial donors. A group of the larger donors asked that we name the Health Care center after him.”

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And they did. A plaque at the entrance reads, Dr. Thomas I. Steinberg Skilled Nursing Facility. Dr. Steinberg even helped cut the ribbon when Castle Peak Senior Life and Rehabilitation opened Sept. 26, 2017. Inside, the gorgeous $25 million facility resembles a ski lodge, with fantastic views of the facility’s namesake peak visible from the dining room. Aside from amenities like a beauty salon, library and fitness center, the place really exudes a homey feel. And its exterior blends right into the Eagle Ranch subdivision.

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Augustana Care, a Minnesota based nonprofit that runs two dozen assisted-living centers in Minnesota, Wyoming and Colorado, owns the 62,000-square-foot center. There are 64 total beds, including 22 skilled nursing beds (for people with chronic care conditions; staffed with 24-hour licensed supportive service providers); 20 assisted living apartments (private apartments with separate bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living spaces; 24-hour non-licensed support available); 12 memory care suites for those with cognitive issues and 10 short-term rehabilitation suites (where the average stay is less than 90 days).

 

The second floor of the health center, which includes the memory care and half of the long-term care suites, is slated to open this winter; thus far they’ve been limited by staffing, McCarroll said. Even so, Castle Peak has served more than 100 people in the relatively short time it’s been open.

“We served our one hundredth unique client on August 14, 2017,” McCarroll says.

The impact stretches far beyond the folks who live at Castle Peak or visit for rehab.

“The people who have loved ones here don’t have to drive over passes or through canyons like they did before to visit; they can pop in at lunchtime to see their parents or loved ones,” McCarroll says.

And that’s a huge benefit for the people who call Castle Peak home.

“The residents are happy they get to see their loved ones more often,” McCarroll says, noting that all of the current residents either lived in the area previously or their children live here currently. “They get to be in their home area and near whatever it was that brought them here. They can stay close to their favorite restaurants and be near their family. They don’t have to leave the (Vail) Valley to do in-patient rehab or for permanent care, whatever the case may be.” Along with residents like Shankel, who plans to call Castle Peak home for the remainder of his life, there are plenty of folks whose stay at Castle Peak is much shorter— days, weeks or months rather than years; usually they come like the Shankels did, following a hospitalization and in need of more occupational and physical therapy before returning home.

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“Short-term rehab is one of the resources that didn’t exist in this valley prior to Castle Peak opening,” McCarroll says. “Before us, Glenwood Springs or Evergreen was the closest options. We do in-patient rehab here, and people can also continue to come and see therapists after they go home.”

If you ask Shankel the best thing about Castle Peak, there’s no hesitation.

“The socialization with the people here—the nurses, doctors and the people who are here,” he says. Because it’s a smaller facility—just 15 people in long-term care and 14 in assisted living as of October 2017—Shankel has gotten a chance to really connect with people. “I think that makes my day — getting up, getting out and talking with people,” he continues.

Castle Peak’s extensive life-enrichment program fosters those connections and sets it apart from other facilities, says McCarroll.

“We provide purposeful, meaningful activity and community-based programming for all the residents,” First Name Sheridan, the life enrichment director, said in a recent TV8 television interview. “We are focused on the quality of life—social, physical, emotional and spiritual. We have things like music therapy; we have social hours; we go on outings; we go out to eat; we go to the grocery store. We do an interdenominational service every Sunday. We have one-on-one spiritual visitation as needed—residents can call 24/7. Everything is volunteer-based. We couldn’t ask for a better community.”

Indeed, the monthly calendar is packed with options like horticulture therapy, happy hour, movie nights and activities that keep people moving: walking group, Wii bowling, exercise classes, chair yoga and more. “This is such an important part of what makes Castle Peak special, especially for our permanent residents,” McCarroll says.

These days, Shankel is feeling much better than when he first arrived at Castle Peak, and he certainly has his sense of humor back.

“I think if I felt any better, they’d probably send me home,” he says. “But I think I found a home and I want to stay here.”

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