Ventilator-Assisted Living©

Winter 2003, Vol. 17, No. 4


Assisted Living for Ventilator Users

Ashley Hoskins, Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital, Lincoln, Nebraska (

Nine years ago, a gunshot wound paralyzed Jack Coleman, now 30, at level C4. After six years of around-the-clock care at home by nurses and family, Coleman, who uses a ventilator, moved into the newly opened Thomas C. Woods III House on the grounds of Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska. "Before he moved into the house, Jack rarely got out of bed. Now, he's up every day and is very active," according to Woods House Manager, Judith Brown.

Coleman actively sought residence at Woods House because he wanted to live a more independent life.

Woods House is one of a very few assisted living facilities in the United States that offers services to ventilator users. It was created for the younger adult with complex physical disabilities who wishes to live more independently in the community. Eighteen people, three with ventilators, have lived at Woods House since it opened in April 2000.

Photo of Jack ColemanColeman said that Woods House has improved his ability to direct his daily care and increase his independence. Susan Epps, Director of Community Service at Madonna, said, "Prior to coming to the program, Coleman had not been motivated to learn to be independent in mobility. Now, using a sip-n-puff power wheelchair, he goes to the bank, main hospital and local stores by himself."

Staff members, called nursing associates, are available to help with daily care such as bathing, dressing, grooming, etc., but the tenants are involved in every process. The staff prepares the daily meals, but the tenants plan the menu. A staff member will administer medication, but only under the tenant's direction. To care for two tenants using ventilators and six others with high physical needs, staffing involves three associates during the day, three in the evening, and two at night, not including the manager.

Tenants follow their own individual schedules and plan their own daily activities. One attends a local college, others volunteer in the community. (Local transportation is provided.) Unlike other residential programs, structured daily activities are not offered.

Social interaction is a central focus at Woods House, and tenants are encouraged to dine together. A house meeting is held every month to plan group outings, to listen to concerns, and to discuss other housekeeping issues.

While some live at Woods House long-term, others see it as a transitional program. Coleman plans to move to California someday to live with family. "Woods House has given me the ability, both mentally and physically, to get out and be active without the help of other people," Coleman said.

For more information, contact: Susan Epps, 402-483-9508 or visit

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