Pending closure of Brandon Woods nursing home is expected to create crunch for families looking for care

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World File Photo

Brandon Woods at Alvamar, 1501 Inverness Drive, is pictured in this file photo from April 2014.

Up to 100 Lawrence nursing home residents will have to find a new home following a surprise announcement that the longtime retirement facility Brandon Woods at Alvamar is closing its nursing home unit.

Already, family members are worried about the scene that may play out as they begin searching all at once for scarce nursing home beds.

“I think it is going to be like a land rush,” Jeff Blair said of his concerns as he and his sister begin trying to find a new Lawrence nursing home bed for their 98-year old mother.

As the Journal-World reported Sunday, the parent company of Brandon Woods at Alvamar has decided to close all of its nursing home operations by the end of the year. Details on Sunday were sparse, and company officials left several questions unanswered again on Monday. However, some new information came out, including that 100 skilled nursing beds will be eliminated at the facility. At one point Brandon Woods previously had 140 nursing home beds, but eliminated 40 near the end of last year, according to an official with knowledge of the situation.

An advocate for nursing home residents said she agreed with Blair’s concern that finding new nursing home care won’t be easy.

“I think it probably will be very difficult to find nursing facility care in this community,” Margaret Farley, executive director of Kansas Advocates for Better Care, said. “There is going to be a crunch.”

Five Star Senior Living, the parent company of Brandon Woods, has indicated that the nursing home facility may close sooner than the end of the year.

“We will work closely with residents, clients and their families during the coming weeks to develop a comprehensive transfer plan and help transition each resident to a new skilled nursing facility, where they will be welcomed with open arms and receive the care they expect,” the company said in an unsigned statement. “While we work on these plans, and until all residents and clients have been safely and successfully relocated, our healthcare unit and inpatient (rehabilitation) clinic will remain fully operational.”

Massachusetts-based Five Star hasn’t provided many reasons for exiting the nursing home business, other than to say it is part of a new corporate strategy that emphasizes providing independent living options to retirees. Brandon Woods is expected to continue operating assisted living and independent living units after the reorganization.

Farley, whose organization monitors complaints against care homes, said Brandon Woods in recent years had struggled to provide nursing home care, receiving complaints related to inadequate staffing levels and staff training.

“But I would have liked for them to have improved rather than close,” Farley said.

She said Five Star’s decision likely came down to financial considerations. Five Star is a publicly traded company that manages the facility for another publicly traded company, Diversified Healthcare Trust, which actually owns the facilities. With that many shareholders to please, providing costly skilled nursing care often is less attractive than providing less labor-intensive care, like independent living services.

“You want people who don’t require a lot of care because it is cheaper to take care of those people,” Farley said of a mindset that occurs in the corporate elder care industry.

Farley said there is a trend in the industry for more home-based care, which is allowing the elderly to live longer in their own homes. However, that hasn’t eliminated the need for traditional nursing homes. Often home-based care becomes cost-prohibitive when the resident needs someone to stay with them for many hours per day, Farley said. Her organization lobbies lawmakers to provide more funding to enhance home care options in communities, but such support won’t be quick enough for those being forced out at Brandon Woods.

“I think we are in a growing-pains situation right now,” Farley said. “There’s a big transition coming.”

Problems that the nursing home industry suffered during the pandemic are likely speeding up the transition, Farley said.

There are other nursing home providers in Lawrence, but it was not immediately clear what their vacancy rates are, Farley said. Her nonprofit organization, though, can be a resource for families who are trying to find a new location. People can contact Kansas Advocates for Better Care online at KABC.org or at 785-842-3088.

Brandon Woods, 1501 Inverness Drive, has been in operation since the 1990s and was one of the first upscale retirement communities built in west Lawrence. One of its selling points has been that it allows people to live independently in town homes, condos and other such units and then receive skilled nursing care, if needed later in life.

It is unclear whether the loss of that service could lead to an exodus of other Brandon Woods residents who aren’t currently in skilled nursing care but who want to live in a facility where they can transition to that service. If so, that could put additional pressure on area retirement homes that offer skilled nursing care.

A company spokesman did not answer a question about how many Brandon Woods employees are expected to lose their job as part of the closure of the nursing home unit. The company has said it is working with employees to find other opportunities for them to remain employed.

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