As the manager of resident activities at Consulate Health Care of Melbourne, in Melbourne, FL,  Dakotah Nalley knows exactly what she wants to accomplish. She is passionate about making connections with residents through a tailor-made activities program. She is constantly finding ways to help residents make social connections in a way they remember.

A resident named Bruno is a perfect example of how these connections can be made. Bruno, a Vietnam veteran with two purple hearts, is unable to communicate verbally. The care center put up a “Wall of Heroes” that honors the veterans in the care center. There is a picture of Bruno in Vietnam on the wall. Although he couldn’t speak, tears ran down his face when he first saw the photo. After that, Bruno would show the picture to everyone who passed the wall, including visitors, staff, and housekeeping. The photo prompted conversations with Bruno. “It was so worth it to see his reaction,” tells Dakotah.

Dakotah is not new to working with post-acute and long-term care residents. In fact, at age eight, she started going to work with her mother, who is a long-term care nurse. Since then, she has been a volunteer, activity assistant, and has worked in memory care. She came to CHC of Melbourne two years ago to become the manager of resident activities.

The community around the care center contributes to the wellbeing of the patients, and Dakotah does a great job of enlisting their involvement. For Christmas this year, a group of kids came in to sing and distribute Christmas cards. The kindergartners caroled through the hallways. “These are the sweetest moments. Even the residents with the worst dementia were touched,” explained Dakotah. The residents also enjoyed taking pictures with Santa.

"These are the sweetest moments."

The successful activities program is definitely a team effort. Dakotah told us about her two wonderful assistants. Romero, who will have his one year anniversary at CHC of Melbourne in March, is very passionate and engaging. At the end of every announcement that he makes in the care center he ends the announcement by saying, “We love you.”  It’s so sweet and makes the care center feel like home and an extended family. Romero is studying to become an administrator, and Dakotah tells him, “When you become an administrator, don’t forget us!” The other assistant, Lorenzo, started as a committed volunteer, and he was hired to be an activity assistant after volunteering. He is studying to become a nurse and loves the connections he makes with the residents. Dakotah is also thankful for the support she gets from the entire team at the department level. The executive director, director of nursing, unit managers, social services, and human resources all support Dakotah’s efforts in activities.

Outside of work, Dakotah is focused on completing a degree in therapeutic recreation. She wants to get certified, and then continue to encourage a culture of person-centered care. When she’s home, she spends a lot of time with her family, and hangs out with her pug. Dakotah mentioned that the residents at CHC of Melbourne are also like family because many of them don’t have their own families. “They are also family, not by blood, but by choice.”