Beebe Healthcare’s Gull House Offers Caregivers a Safe Haven for Loved Ones in Need

Vernon & Eleanor Huber

When starting a married life together many recite the vows “in sickness and in health,” however we don’t always anticipate the challenges we may encounter later on in our lives together. Being a full-time caregiver to an aging or sick spouse can be a demanding, stressful, and emotionally charged endeavor.

No one can anticipate such a turn of events when we recite our vows. It is hard to see the one we love, our partner-in-life, decline in health, and particularly when it effects their memory and overall sense of self. Most spouses want to do the right thing for their beloved partners and make them comfortable while in their home environment, but at the same time cannot lose sight of taking caring of themselves. It is important that as a caregiver, you maintain your own health, because if you aren't well, you will be less able to help your spouse. Knowing how and when to ask for help is important.

Such was the case for local couple Vernon and Eleanor Huber, married for nearly 70 years, and residents of Lewes for the past 40 years. Eleanor was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a year ago, adding to her existing challenges of Parkinson’s disease as well as Meniere’s disease, a lesser known disorder of the inner ear that causes episodes in which you feel as if you're spinning, complicated by fluctuating hearing loss with a progressive, ultimately permanent loss of hearing, ringing in the ear, and sometimes a feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear.

Ninety-year-old Vernon admits, he prides himself on being very independent and not having to ask much of others. While he initially wanted to do it all himself, after consultation with their priest and grown son, Steven, last December there came a point that he realized it was time he explored additional local resources to help him care for his beloved Eleanor. That is where Beebe Healthcare’s Gull House came in.

The Hubers Connect with The Gull House

Vernon set up an intro appointment with Gull House Director, Kathleen Graham Frey, MA, CTRS, NHA/L, CDPI, to learn more and see if it would be a good match. Soon after, Eleanor began attending Gull House a couple days a week to see how it would go. After success, she now attends three days a week for 3 to 5 hours a session. These time periods allow Vernon to take care of any needed doctor appointments and catch up time on household chores, while knowing Eleanor is being cared for and engaging in regular scheduled activities with trained staff.

“The staff and I strive to create an environment in which the person who has dementia is seen as a unique individual with a vibrant personality, a lifetime of preferences, and experiences worthy of respect and engagement,” said Kathleen Graham Frey, MA, CTRS, NHA/L, CDPI, Gull House Director.

“In addition to maintaining our own home and looking after Eleanor, I also help oversee a couple neighbors’ seasonal homes when they are away, mowing the lawn and more. While I enjoy doing it, and it gets me outside in the fresh air, in my older years, handling it all can be tiring. When at home, I’m constantly concerned when I’m out of the room of Eleanor potentially falling. Now with the Gull House, I have the peace of mind that Eleanor is in a safe, caring environment, and it gives me time to get some others things done on my to-do list. The people at Gull House are great! One staff member in particular that Eleanor has gotten to know is Terry. Terry is always so helpful and personable.”

“Basically I feel like I am the adopted fourth son, between Vernon’s home grown tomatoes and Eleanor’s school teacher stories; I feel privileged to know and assist them,” said Terry McKnight, Activities Assistant at Beebe’s Gull House.

A Love Story for the Ages

Reminiscent to the love story of “The Notebook,” the moment you meet the couple, the love and rich history shared between the two is apparent. Vernon shared how they first met in the summer of 1942 when he was 14 and Eleanor was 12. Eleanor’s father was transferred to work in northern Delaware with war construction, the same town where Vernon and his family lived.

Vernon fondly recalls, “When I first met Eleanor at school, I inquired to our mutual friend Gertrude, ‘Who is the pretty blond girl, new in town?’”

Without much notice, Eleanor and her family had to suddenly pick up and move due to her father’s job. Vernon was upset that he did not have opportunity to say goodbye to Eleanor, but asked their mutual friend if it would be ok if he wrote to her. They started corresponding, and Vernon never quite knew where the return envelope would come from—various locations, such as Durham, N.C.; Louisiana; and Arizona. Eleanor completed her last two years of high school in Tempe, Arizona, even skipping a grade due to her advanced skills. Upon graduation, she began college at the Arizona State University. The long-distance correspondence between Vernon and Eleanor continued and one day Vernon got up the nerve to ask her to marry him, and he recalls, “she surprisingly said ‘yes’.” Vernon got out of the naval service, took a train to Arizona to join Eleanor, then 18-years-old, in Arizona where the two were married that June, and then returned to the Northern Delaware area to start a new life together.

While raising a family of three boys—Christopher, Steven and Danny—Eleanor impressively graduated with distinction from the University of Delaware—and was named outstanding student in the School of Education.

Flash forward to present day, Vernon reflects, “Despite certain challenges, all in all, we’ve had a very blessed life. Our family means so much to us. After our children were grown, while in retirement and still in good health, Eleanor and I traveled extensively together via cruises to places as far reaching as the Arctic Circle, Antarctica, South America, and the South Pacific.”

The couple continues to stay active and do things together such as their shared love for cinema, frequently attending matinees at Midway, as well as spending time with their extensive family and friends.

For a primary caregiver, having a safe place with caring, trained staff where one can rest assured their loved one is in a healthy environment can be a real comfort.

Learn More about The Gull House

Gull House is a structured and supervised Adult Day Care program designed for functionally impaired seniors who are 60 years of age or older. The primary goals are to avoid or forestall long term care treatment, support and improve social, mental, emotional, and physical levels of functioning; to enhance the quality of life; and to provide respite to families and caregivers. The program is supported by Beebe Healthcare, a grant from the Delaware Division of Services for Aging and Adults with Physical Disabilities, The Delaware Medicaid Program, and monthly contributions from each participant. The Gull House business office is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Adult Day Recreation Program begins at 9 a.m. and discharge to home is 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. A hot lunch and snacks are served daily.

Activities include: walks, outings, exercise, arts and crafts, games, cooking, reminiscence therapy, reading and storytelling, discussion groups, music and singing, and special celebration events.

A full-time RN/LPN is available to give medications, monitor vital signs, and perform basic nursing procedures. All staff members are certified Dementia Practitioners — certified by the National Council of Certified Dementia Practitioners. A Caregivers Support Group meets once a month for discussion, encouragement, and sharing of ideas and resources. Transportation to and from Gull House is available at a nominal charge. Programs are customized to meet each client's particular needs.

For more information, call Gull House at (302) 226-2160, or go to: www.beebehealthcare.org/gull-house.

Photo Caption: Vernon and Eleanor Huber pose together in their home residence.