Because she's always had an affinity for the elderly, Tami McKay says she is right where she wants to be.
The new administrator of the Powell House, an assisted living facility at 806 W. Longhorn, began volunteering at a nursing home when she was in junior high.
A native of Montana, McKay remembers spending summers in the mountains with a senile aunt who insisted they take turns dancing with her dead husband.
"I'm sure Aunt June had some kind of dementia, but she maintained this little cabin and I'd go spend a month with her every year," McKay said. "We'd dress up and dance with him."
It was part of a memorable childhood in cowboy country that McKay describes as "a pretend world."
"My mom's people had horses, and when I'd go stay with them, we'd ride to the tops of hills and chase hay bales around, go have picnics in places we'd ride to," she said.
While none of the residents of the Powell House has asked McKay over to dance with deceased family members, you get the feeling from talking to her that she would do it as readily now as she did when she was a little girl.
"We look at people as people, not patients," she said. "Independence, dignity, individuality. It's perfect for me and I love it.
"My personal goal is to better their lives through assisted living, and that's what it's all about."
By definition, licensed assisted living is a stage between retirement and skilled nursing care.
Powell House has 39 studio and one-bedroom apartments. Each one has a private bath and a kitchenette area.
The facility has a central kitchen where three meals a day are prepared for all residents, a dining hall, library, living room with fireplace, an activity room and a courtyard. Weekly housekeeping and laundry service is also provided for all residents.
McKay oversees a staff of 32 people, including a registered nurse. While the staff will assist residents with bathing, dressing and medication, the facility is not designed to provide medical care.
"We take weights and vitals as needed," she said, "but we're not a skilled nursing facility and we don't really have medical equipment or staff."
A private company comes to Powell House to provide skilled care like physical therapy and speech therapy.
Residents pay between $2,000 and $2,800 per month. While Medicare doesn't cover assisted living, there is a Medicaid program through the state for those who qualify.
Powell House, which is currently full and has a waiting list of seven, is owned by Assisted Living Concepts (ALC), a Portland, Ore.-based company that has more than 200 facilities in 12 states.
McKay, who has a business degree, has lived in southern Arizona for 25 years, 20 in Yuma and five in the Green Valley-Tucson area. After working in the retirement field for many years, she changed to assisted living six years ago.
When the position at the Powell House became available, she moved to Payson. She assumed her new duties July 1.
"I left the Tucson-Green Valley area because the market had become so saturated," she said. "There is an assisted living facility on every corner down there."
So far, she loves Payson.
"The people are friendly and the weather's great," she said. "One thing is for sure: it's not hot here not like it is down there."
Besides the elderly, McKay likes reading, hiking and exploring in general.
"Now that the forest is open, I intend to spend some time exploring this beautiful country," she said.
She also enjoys the slow pace of life in Payson.
"I'm coming here from Green Valley, where everything closes down at 8 p.m.," she said. "I like the slow-paced lifestyle.
"I work with the elderly, so we move slow, we talk slow, we think slow. You get very used to that."
For more information on Powell House and assisted living care, call McKay at 474-6249.
Name: Tami McKay
Occupation: Assisted living administrator
Employer: Powell House (Assisted Living Concepts, Inc.)
Birthplace: Billings, Mont.
Family: Three children (Nolan, 24; Carly, 21; Dillon, 17)
Personal motto: Honesty, tell it like it is, and what you put into life is what you get out.
Inspiration: People who are ambitious and persevere, positive energy, nature
Greatest feat: My children
Favorite hobby or leisure activity: Exploring, hiking
Three words that describe me best: Passionate, caring, creative
I don't want to brag but: I'm good at what I do.
Person in history I'd most like to meet: Jesus
Luxury defined: A massage, hot tub, and bottle of wine (on the beach)
Dream vacation spot: Hawaii
Why Payson? Good job, good people, great weather