Lawrence nursing homes are focusing on putting the "home" back into nursing home, several directors of Lawrence facilities said as they prepared to celebrate National Nursing Home week, which begins today.
"It wasn't so long ago that we didn't call them nursing homes," said Lee Eaton, executive director of Pioneer Ridge Retirement Community. "We used to call them nursing facilities, but now they are nursing homes again because we're definitely doing everything we can to make it feel like home."
At Pioneer Ridge, that means placing carpet throughout the facility instead of tile, installing technology that pages nurses instead of having loud alarms, and creating areas that are designed to function like a living room.
Rhonda Parks, the new executive director at Lawrence Presbyterian Manor, said creating a home-like environment probably was the biggest trend across the country.
"I think a lot of nursing homes are realizing the key to being successful is we have to be less like an institution," Parks said. "Nursing homes used to have that hospital type of feel, and that's exactly what we don't want anymore.
"It really just comes down to doing things to better respect our residents as people. When we get confused about what to do, we ask ourselves what would we want. Would we rather be served our meal on a tray, or would we rather be served on a piece of china? When we look at it that way, it usually becomes pretty simple."
Atmosphere isn't the only thing that's changing in nursing homes Â residents are, too. In general, they're becoming older, more fragile and in greater need of care, nursing home executives said.
"The change in the acuity level of patients is probably one of the bigger changes nursing homes are having to deal with," Eaton said. "We take care of a lot sicker patients than we did in the past."
The reason is because the elderly have more care choices than they have had in the past, Eaton said. They're waiting as long as they can before residing in a nursing home. Some of the options include assisted living or having home healthcare provided.
Assisted living, where residents live in apartments near a nursing home, became popular in the early- to mid-'90s.
Potential for problems
Deanne Bacco, executive director for the Lawrence office of Kansas Advocates for Better Care Inc., said she thought the industry was having trouble keeping up with the demand in care.
"It really was a drastic change for the industry, and some still haven't recuperated from it," Bacco said. "Some haven't fully grasped that this business ... is even more labor intensive today."
Bacco said her group Â which is a statewide, nonprofit consumer advocacy group Â kept a close eye on staffing levels at nursing homes across the state. She pointed to no specific problems at Lawrence facilities, but she said there were nursing homes in Kansas that seemed to be spending too little on nursing.
About a year and a half ago, Bacco looked at budget information on every nursing home in Kansas. She said some of the information had been troubling.
"A lot of times you hear the major chains crying about the cost of labor, but what I found was that many times the cost of labor for nurses and staff members weren't even as great as the administrative costs," Bacco said.
Bacco said she thought some nursing homes were feeling financial pressures, particularly during tight economic times.
"I think there are a fair number of nursing home administrators sitting behind their desk feeling like they are in a squeezed position," said Bacco, who used to be an administrator for a nursing home. "They probably realize they need more staff, but if they are part of a large corporate structure, they are probably having some of their resources siphoned off for other corporate expenses."
But Bacco said it wasn't fair to paint the industry with a broad brush. She said not all nursing homes had staffing problems, and not all large nursing home corporations were skimping on care.
"It isn't like everybody out there is a bad boy," Bacco said. "Even in the same company you'll find some homes that are good and some that aren't. That's why you have to do your research."
Bacco said consumers could get research information from Kansas Advocates for Better Care. The organization provides advice on how consumers should go about choosing a nursing home and also sells booklets that list nursing options in various counties in the state.
Preparing for the wave
Lawrence providers said they had adapted well to the changes in the industry.
"We have good services and good providers here," said LaVerne Epp, former president of the Lawrence-based Retirement Management Corp., which owns Brandon Woods Retirement Community. "The community attracts good providers because Lawrence without a doubt is becoming a great place for people to retire."
The attractive market has created new activity in the industry. Both Brandon Woods and Presbyterian Manor have added assisted living units within the past five years, and Pioneer Ridge entered the Lawrence market less than a year ago.
All the activity means Lawrence faces no shortage of available nursing home beds. All three facilities reported available beds in their nursing homes.
"I think it is fair to say that most homes have a lower census number right now, but that can be pretty cyclical; and I do think there are people who have been building for future demand," said Terri Moore, director of operations/management for Life Care Services, which purchased Retirement Management Corp. last year.
In fact, almost everybody in the industry is looking toward the future because of two words Â Baby Boomers.
"In the next 10 years or so lots of Baby Boomers will be in their 60s or 70s and that has the potential to create a lot of new demand for our services," said Linda MowBray, education director for the Kansas Health Care Assn. "Everybody is really just looking and trying to prepare for that first wave of Baby Boomers."