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Making compassion into a career

by: ELLEN SPITALERI Elena Mihalut, right, with Maxine Marfell, one of the residents of Meadowlark Adult Care Home in Milwaukie.

(Editor's note: This is the second in a series of stories about 'People at Work,' focusing on people with interesting or unusual jobs.)

What does she like best about Meadowlark Adult Care Home? Well, that would be everything, said Elena Mihalut.

She is the owner of the 24-hour care facility in Milwaukie, which consists of two homes that can take five residents each.

'I like what I'm doing; elderly people are special, and I like to treat them the way they should be treated,' Mihalut said.

She prides herself on providing a homey atmosphere for her residents and notes that everyone gets home-cooked meals and lots of attention from her family members. She, her husband and their children live in one of the homes, while manager Romona Edwards lives in the second home next door.

A nurse is always on call, a young man comes to play the guitar for the residents on Thursdays and a hair stylist makes visits regularly.

Another aspect of Meadowlark that sets it apart from other facilities, Mihalut said, is that the individual rooms are large and have walk-in showers and there is a central common area with a big-screen television. Outside, a covered porch and a gazebo offer residents and their families privacy and a view of the garden, and a small trail in the backyard allows folks to get some exercise every day.

Maxine Marfell has been a resident at Meadowlark for almost a year and said she walks the looped trail four times a day. She also commented that she loves the good care she gets, along with the food.

Hard work

Mihalut makes it all work because she is no stranger to hard work and dedication. She came to the U.S. in 1991 from Romania, where she had to carry three buckets of water every day to do the washing.

She said she cried when she came to Oregon and saw the washer and dryer.

When she left her home country, her grandmother was ill, and when she went to church to pray for her, she said, 'God put love in my heart.'

In the church, a group of older women came up to shake hands with her and comfort her, and it was then, she noted, that she became attached to elderly people.

'I like to have compassion for people,' Mihalut added, adding that her first job was in a nursing home.

Residents

She has been state certified for more than 19 years and said that Meadowlark is a level-three adult care home, where residents get around-the-clock care; hospice also comes to the facility.

'We have the nicest people, with all kinds of needs,' Mihalut said.

Her oldest resident was 102 and was scared at first to come to Meadowlark, but once she met Mihalut and her family, she felt better.

'I kissed her on the forehead - she was so sweet,' Mihalut said.

At one point, she had a married couple as residents.

'The son came and said he had looked at many other places, but he told me, 'The first time I saw you, I liked it,'' she said.

The son placed his mother at Meadowlark, where she lived for three years, and then when her husband came to visit his spouse, he liked it as well, and ended up living at the adult care facility for five years.

Many of the residents like to interact with Mihalut's children, she noted, adding that one lady even crocheted a sweater for her son.

Welcoming environment

Edwards, the live-in manager at the second site next door, has been with Mihalut for three years.

'I've learned a lot from Elena. Everybody loves it here; it is nice and clean and people feel welcome. I like to take care of older people - it is like taking care of my grandparents,' she said.

'We respect everybody here,' Mihalut said, adding that if her residents ask her to pray with them, she is happy to oblige.

She added, 'We celebrate birthdays and holidays here; the residents become part of the family, and I want to do this until I retire.'