Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 04 May 2010 18:42
Salem Home is taking another big step in its resolve to be a top-flight, free-standing nursing home with the announcement that it intends to build a new front entrance for its facility at 704 S. Ash in Hillsboro.
The total project, which includes the installation of energy-efficient windows and state-mandated fire-protection water sprinklers throughout the facility, is estimated to cost $600,000.
Kelly Schlehuber, administrator, said the project will be funded with a loan and some grant money from the Rural Development Administration. The home intends to launch a community-wide fundraising campaign in June to pay off the loan.
“We’ve got a committee put together of 10 folks committed to being a part of (planning the campaign),” Schlehuber said. “We also have $50,000 set aside for this project.”
Years in process
The idea of a new entrance has been in the mill for several years; plans drawn up then by Landmark Architects, Hutchinson, will be used for the current project.
The existing entrance area will be renovated into an enclosed sun room overlooking the Hillsboro Municipal Golf Course and Memorial Park.
The primary purposes of a new entrance are to make the transportation of residents easier as well as create a more inviting look to the exterior of the facility.
“The front entrance right now is not user-friendly for the disabled,” Schlehuber said. “It slopes really bad, and there are cracks in the sidewalk.
“When we need to transport somebody, instead of being able to pull right up and put them into a van or a car and head out, it’s a big process. We want easier access for the disabled.”
The new entrance would eliminate the institutional appearance the home inherited as a long-term care unit attached to the formerly-named Hillsboro Community Medical Center.
“Right now, you look at (the entrance) and say, wow, that’s ugly,” she said. “(The home) looks like it’s attached to the hospital, but we’re not. We’re a free-standing home for these folks and it should look like a home.”
Wendell Dirks, chair of the Salem Board of Directors, said improving the exterior appearance of the home is an important improvement.
“We have extremely poor curb appeal,” he said. “People drive by the home and they still look at it as being part of the hospital.”
Easier access to the home is important, too.
“With our limited parking down there, and that big old ramp and everything, it’s just difficult to work through all that to just get into the place,” Dirks said. “Your first impression (of the home) surely isn’t good.”
“We just need to improve that and make it more like a house and look a little more comfortable. It’s just too commercial looking.”
A more attractive exterior will complement the significant enhancements made to the interior of the facility over the past few years.
Schlehuber said about $135,000 has been invested to make the interior warmer and more home-like, as well as make better use of space while adding or updating several essential areas, such as a quiet room, the activities area and the spa bathroom.
About $35,000 needed to bring the building up to code when it transitioned from being a hospital specialized-care unit to a free-standing home came from the city’s Public Building Commission, which owns the facilities.
“It’s all for the residents—the extra space is totally for them,” Schlehuber said of the interior changes.
“We’ve done great and wonderful things on the inside,” Dirks said. “Once you get through the doors it’s greatly changed. But we still have that old Salem Home look from the outside that needs to be dealt with, and make it more convenient to get it in and out of the place.”
Salem Home became an independent facility with the sale of the hospital in 2008 to HMC/ CAH Consolidated, a Kansas City-based investment firm that plans to build a new $10 million facility along U.S. Highway 56, starting this year.
Ownership of the long-term care unit, revenues from which helped finance the hospital’s operation through the years, remained with the Salem board.
“It’s been a challenge,” Dirks said of the transition. “It was like starting a new business. We had to develop our own administrative staff and office staff, and buy all the equipment we needed, including a high-dollar computer system.”
Adding to the challenge was a 20 percent reduction in Medicaid funding last year resulting from state revenue shortfalls. Those cuts had a $220,000 negative impact on revenue at Salem Home, where 57 percent of its residents rely on the assistance program for their care.
Schlehuber said, historically, even when fully funded, Medicaid reimbursements don’t cover the cost of care. The state’s cuts required immediate action to keep the doors open.
Schlehuber and her department heads met at her home to make plans. One of the first decisions was to cut their own salaries by 10 percent.
“We wanted to do something that would remove (the cuts) as far as possible from the residents, so it would not affect them,” she said. “Starting at the top was where it needed to go.”
In addition, “a lot of overtime went away,” supervisors went to 36-hour work weeks and two positions were eliminated—but not in nursing. One was an activities position and one was in dietary.
Schlehuber said she found out later, while attending a conference of Kansas adult-care executives that their response to the funding crisis was unique among peer facilities.
“None of them had done that,” she said. “They had cut nursing staff, and they were just in awe. They said, ‘How did you not cut nursing staff?’”
Dirks said the leadership team’s decisive actions have averted a more serious situation for the home.
“We’ve worked through the worst of it, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “We have everything cooking smoothly, and things are going quite well. We’re working through this thing, there’s no doubt about it.”
Dirks said the community needs Salem Home to continue.
“Yes, there are people who prefer to go to Parkside (Homes), but there are people who actually want to go to Salem,” he said.
“We can’t dump the Medicaid residents,” he added. “Somebody has to take care of these folks. In a small community like this—and this is a community nursing home—we have to make it work.”
Dirks gives Schlehuber a lot of the credit for the home’s current position.
“She’s done some great and wonderful things,” he said. “We’ve made some cuts, but it’s nothing that’s going to affect the quality of the care.
“It’s kind of a double-headed thing,” he added. “We’re trying to improve the quality of the care by improving the home and feeding the folks better and all those things—while at the same time we’re having money taken away from us.”
Schlehuber is quick to affirm the board.
“They really care,” she said. “They’re fabulous people. I really couldn’t ask for a better board.”
Serving with Dirks on the board are Jared Jost, Eileen Unruh, Martin Rhodes, Jim Brennan, June Mount and Kyle Cederberg.