Judy Berry had just started the day at her new job when she got a phone call that changed her life. Her mother, Evelyn, had been hospitalized after accidentally overdosing on her medications. Berry was told her mother could no longer live alone. Berry, who was recently divorced and had few resources, knew that meant she would have to break a lifelong promise to her mother. She would have to put Evelyn in a nursing home.

During the first week in her new home, Evelyn took a walk outside. When the nursing home staff was unable to find her, they called her walk an “escape,” and Evelyn was thereafter considered to have a “behavior problem.” Evelyn was placed in a small, locked dementia unit. So began a “seven-year horror story” that involved dozens of different nursing homes, hospitalizations, drug-induced rages, battles with nursing home staff members and lots of tears. Throughout the ordeal, Berry fought for a more humane approach to her mother’s care but, she said, “The system wouldn’t allow it.”

After her mother died, Berry’s anger and frustration inspired her to provide a different approach to dementia care. But turning her vision into a reality was fraught with obstacles. She had no professional experience with the health care system; she struggled to secure a loan; and she was sued by her neighbors, who feared that the presence of an elder care facility on their street would reduce their property values.

But Berry persevered and eventually founded Lakeview Ranch, a facility in Darwin, Minn., that offers specialized dementia care to patients of all income levels. “We treat dementia sufferers like human beings,” she said. Addressing residents’ spiritual and emotional needs is a key component of the care delivered at the facility, and staff members work to reduce the use of drugs to manage aggressive behavior. Berry also established a foundation to provide scholarships to offset the deficit in Medicaid reimbursement for low-income patients.

For her courage to create a new model of care for those suffering from dementiaand for never turning someone away because of an inability to payBerry has been named one of 10 recipients of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leaders Award, which honors exceptional men and women who have overcome significant obstacles to tackle some of the most challenging health and health care problems facing their communities. In remarks at the presentation ceremony in August, Berry dedicated her award to dementia patients who receive inadequate care.

The Lakeview Ranch Model of Specialized Dementia Care® is an unqualified success: A recent study found it reduced hospitalizations by 93 percent.

Stacy L. Nichols, M.D., a board-certified adult and geriatric psychiatrist at Hutchinson Area Health Care in Hutchinson, Minn., praised the facility’s caring, home-like environment. “I have had the opportunity to speak at her facility and assist in educating her staff,” she said. “I told them my hope was that I could be on the waiting list for a room when that time comes. It is the highest compliment I can pay her and her staff.”