First resident arrives at Northwest Indiana “Small House”

Park Place Health & Wellness Center of St. John is a new kind of nursing home, and Martha Winiarczyk is the first to experience it.

Park Place St. John

ST. JOHN, Ind. (October 4, 2016) — Kathy Jones has been looking out for her Aunt Martha for many years. Martha has no children of her own, and she was confidently independent until recently. After a hospitalization, she was released to rehab, and eventually transferred to a higher level of care in South Holland, Illinois, where she remained for about a year. A retired nurse, Kathy was well-suited to serve as her aunt’s advocate throughout her various admissions, discharges, and transfers.

When Kathy’s daughter, who lives in St. John, drove past a new construction site on 231 last year, she noticed that the Park Place St. John sign listed several levels of senior care. She knew it would be more convenient to have Aunt Martha closer to the family, so she called to put her on the list. Then she called her mom to let her know what she’d done.

“She told me she figured we could always take her name off the list later if we changed our mind,” says Kathy, “and she was right.”

Park Place St. John

Martha Winiarczyk, the first resident of Northwest Indiana’s first “Small House,” arrived like a celebrity on Tuesday afternoon, October 4, 2016.

That’s how Martha Winiarczyk became the first resident of Northwest Indiana’s newest senior living option, “Small House” care at Park Place Health & Wellness Center of St. John. She moved in on October 4, a sunny Tuesday afternoon.

Park Place St. John

Martha was pleased with the flower arrangement Park Place staff had placed in her room as a welcome gift.

This was the moment that Park Place staff had been waiting for. Construction began in 2014, and the ribbon-cutting ceremony was held a few weeks ago on August 23. Last week, approvals were received from both the state and the county, and Park Place Health & Wellness Center could officially open and receive residents.

This was the moment Martha’s family had been waiting for too. They had tracked construction progress each time they drove past the site, and Kathy received regular mailings from Park Place. When she attended an information event in June, she was surprised at what she saw. “There were, like, 400 people there!” she says. “I thought, ‘We have to stay on top of this to make sure we get in when they open. These will go fast.'”

Nancy VanDrunen, Executive Director of Park Place St. John, understands people’s eagerness. “Right away when they see the furnishings and the layout,” she says about people who have toured the buildings, “they ‘get it.’ They can see that this is not a traditional nursing home, it’s not an institution, it’s not a facility. The architecture and the staffing are set up differently, so the whole experience is different.” Small House literature explains, for example, that the buildings are smaller — only 10 private rooms arranged around a common kitchen and dining area. This means there are no long hallways as in a typical institutional-style building. That’s important to the Small House philosophy of care because it means that people like Martha, who have ambulation problems, can walk to the dining room on their own. That kind of daily independence keeps people healthier longer.

Small House staffing is different too. In a typical institution, there may be hundreds of people, so staff try to provide care and services as efficiently as possible. Nurses do rounds to deliver meds as quickly as possible. Mealtimes are the same for everyone to allow dining staff to serve people as efficiently as possible. Even bedtimes and morning routines are designed around shift changes. But in the Park Place Small Houses, there are only 10 residents, so the services can be much more personalized. Since Martha’s room is so close to the kitchen, she can walk there whenever she wants and have a cup of coffee. Staff might ask if she wants hot eggs or cold cereal for breakfast. If she’s not hungry at dinner time, she might choose to sit in the library and read or watch TV.

Park Place St. John

Kathy hasn’t yet seen how the Small House philosophy of care will play out in her Aunt Martha’s day-to-day life, but she’s impressed so far. “Staff have been very accommodating,” she says about the admissions process. “Very accommodating.”

“That’s exactly what we’re here for,” says Nancy.

To find out if any more Small House apartments are available, email (Because of the small number of apartments, it’s best to get on the list as soon as possible.)

For more information about long-term care at Park Place Health & Wellness Center of St. John, visit For more information about the Small House concept of care, visit “What is a ‘Small House’?,” an information piece published by Providence Life Services, the parent company of Park Place St. John.