By Jean Doran Matua, Editor
Hilltop Health Care Center opened its doors to the public April 9, 1979. It was largely a community effort then, with many local individuals helping to build, furnish, and decorate the original facility. There have been changes over the years, including its name, ownership, management, residents, staff, and renovations and expansions.
The community nearly lost Hilltop a few years ago, when state reimbursements were found to be lower at Hilltop’s location than if it had been located just a -quarter-mile or so away. The Watkins community, in particular, rallied to rectify that, including trips to the Minnesota Capitol and entreaties to local government representatives. Rep. Dean Urdahl was a particular champion for Hilltop, and the change in reimbursement meant that Hilltop could continue, and grow.
Today, Hilltop Health Care Center is a 50-bed nursing care facility plus 46 apartments at Garden View. Skilled nursing services are provided 24 hours a day. Physical, occupational, and speech therapy services are offered seven days a week on both an inpatient and outpatient basis. The facility also offers adult day care, hospice, and caregiver respite services.
Some of the current staff has been at Hilltop for a long time. Lou Ann Garding, now the business manager, is one of them. “I have learned so much and met so many kinds of residents and families over the last 35 years,” she says. “Working here has helped me become more caring, spiritual, and open-minded. It makes a world of difference when you have friendly, kind, caring staff, and great leadership that really care for the elderly community, and we have that here at Hilltop Health Care Center. I can truly say I like my job!”
Kim Gabrelcik has been at Hilltop since June 1980. “This was my first job out of high school and never imagined being at one job for that long, but here I am!” she says. “I have really enjoyed all the residents and great staff here. I am very proud to tell people where I work. My job is very rewarding helping others and putting a smile on their face!”
Susie Schneider also started in June 1980. She started as Activity Assistant and then added Volunteer Coordinator to her role. “The residents and staff I have worked with over the years have truly been a blessing in my life,” she says. “I also feel the wisdom and knowledge I gained from working at Hilltop, kind of paved the way for the care I gave my parents in their final years.”
Cindy DeMorett is another long-timer at Hilltop. “I have worked at Hilltop for the last 40 years and have seen Hilltop evolve, change, and grow into the facility it is today,” she says. “My life has been touched deeply being an employee of Hilltop and knowing that I can make an impact on the people we care for.”
Fred Struzyk and Tom Opatz became owners of Hilltop in 2012. “We have enjoyed owning and developing Hilltop to what it is today,” they said via Facebook. “We appreciate everyone involved in making Hilltop a Five-Star Facility, with various services to better the quality of life. Continuing what the city [of Watkins] started over 40 years ago, Hilltop has grown into a wonderful facility, and we look forward to seeing what the future of Hilltop has to come.”
Hilltop recently posted on its Facebook page, “Today we celebrate Hilltop with all the wonderful people that live here, staff that care, and family and friends that support. Thank you to all who have helped make Hilltop the home it is today!”