Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
SunnyBrook Living Care Center in Fairfield is being run by a couple of women who have more than 100 years of combined experience in the field of long-term patient care.
Betty Howell, the business’s founder, and Cyndi Gentz, its new administrator, both got their start in the industry when they were just teenagers. Howell was 16 years old, living in Marianna, Arkansas, when she went to work for a nursing home taking patients’ blood pressure and temperature. Howell said her skills all came from on-the-job training.
“I love it as much today as I did back then,” Howell said. “You might as well love what you’re doing since you’ve got to pay the bills somehow.”
Gentz got her feet wet in the business as a “candy striper” at a hospital in Burlington. The term refers to a person who hands out candy, gum, drinks and magazines to patients. Gentz loved working with patients, and that led her to become a CNA then a licensed practical nurse and then a licensed social worker in long-term care. She spent 22 years working at the I.O.O.F. Home & Community Therapy Center in Mason City, it was during those years she became a licensed nursing home administrator. and most recently worked in Greenfield as an administrator before she was hired as SunnyBrook Living Care Center’s administrator last November.
Howell started SunnyBrook Assisted Living in her home in 1995 before building its current facility six years later. But she didn’t stop there. The following year in 2002, she opened a SunnyBrook facility in Mt. Pleasant, and in 2008 alone opened SunnyBrooks in Fort Madison, Burlington, Muscatine and Carroll. When the Jefferson County Health Center in Fairfield moved into its new building on South Highway 1 around that same time, Howell took on the long-term care center in JCHC’s former home on Highland Street, what is today SunnyBrook Living Care Center.
Howell sold all her assisted living centers about a decade ago, so though they have retained the name SunnyBrook, they are owned by a different company. She has put her focus on sprucing up SunnyBrook Living Care Center through renovations and expansions such as adding a coffee shop, sweet shop, salon and most recently a movie theater. The theater comes complete with a projector, genuine theater seats and a popcorn machine. It makes residents feel they are really at the cinema.
Howell said one of the things she’s most proud of at SunnyBrook Living Care Center is the food.
“We have a great chef on board who cooks fabulous meals from fried chicken to grilled pork chops to All-American hamburgers to soups from scratch,” she said.
Breakfast is a big deal at SunnyBrook, where residents can choose from any number of courses just as if they were at a restaurant.
“Breakfast is their favorite meal,” Gentz said. “The residents always clean their plate.”
Howell said SunnyBrook has prioritized quality food because she knows from national surveys that the most common complaint about nursing homes is food.
Gentz said another thing that sets SunnyBrook Living Care Center apart is the way the staff accommodate the preferences of each resident. She said it’s not a “cookie-cutter” business, and that the staff seek to help each resident achieve their personal goals. In fact, SunnyBrook Living Care Center is one of only six providers in Iowa to be recognized for its age-friendly cares & services. Howell and Gentz said nothing matters more to them than their residents.