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Starting from scratch
Willow Valley
THE NEWLY remodeled assisted living center in Shullsburg is one of the few in the area. Gina Leahy operates the facility on Etsey Street in Shullsburg.

SHULLSBURG—Shullsburg native Gina Leahy made her dream of helping people become a reality. After working as a nurse for many years, she set out to create an assisted living facility in her hometown.
Leahy remodeled low-income apartments in Shullsburg into assisted living apartments for singles or couples. The facility is called Willow Valley and is located at 520 W. Estey St., Shullsburg.
There are 16 one-bedroom units consisting of a kitchen, living room, bathroom and bedroom. Each apartment is 600 square feet.
“I’m the only one in Lafayette County that can take couples,” Leahy said. “You have to have so many square feet per state regulations.”
Assisted living facilities include medical set-up, housekeeping, laundry, help with showers or getting dressed if needed, prepared meals and setting up appointments.
“We help with whatever they need,” Leahy said.
Leahy said assisted living involves medical assistance if needed. Yet, tenants are free to come and go as they please.
Leahy said she wanted to open the facility, “so people don’t have to be in a nursing home. This is more of a home setting.”
Leahy said tenants wear a pendant that, when pushed, sends a signal to a pager that gives attendants the exact location of the tenant.
“It provides peace of mind for families by having their loved one here and being looked after,” Leahy said. “Many just need help with their medications. Some need more help than that.”
Leahy said there is only one other assisted living facility in Lafayette County: Sienna Crest in Darlington.
“I know when I was going to get my state license, they were so excited because there is nothing in this part of the state for assisted living,” Leahy said. “During my three years as case manager I got one person into assisted living because everything was full. So then we have people in the nursing home that do not need to be there, but there is nowhere for them to go. They’re sharing a room and bathroom with other people and it’s just not a good fit for everybody.”
Leahy has always wanted to be a nurse. She graduated from Southwest Technical College in Fennimore in 2003. She said she did dialysis in Platteville, was an agency nurse throughout the area and then became a case manager in Monroe.
“I’ve been a nurse for a long time and I guess I’ve always wanted to [open an assisted living facility],” Leahy said. “This building just happened to be here.”
Leahy bought the facility in March 2011 and spent five months remodeling the facility. She installed new siding, a new roof, painted the walls, replaced the flooring, updated the cupboards and made the place feel like home.
She said she bought the building for $185,000 and spent $150,000 on improvements.
“This building was in very, very bad shape,” Leahy said. “It had to be done.”
Leahy started with a partner and has since taken over all aspects of the business. She received her license for private pay on Aug. 1, 2011, and was recently licensed to accept Medicare tenants.
“Not everybody can afford to stay here, so Medicare should help to make it easier for me to get people in here,” Leahy said.
Leahy has been open since Aug. 1, but her first tenant arrived Oct. 31. She currently has three employees and plans to expand to a staff of 15-16 when the facility is full.
Leahy and her husband, Alan, have three children: Lydia, Lane and Landon.