Alternative quarters

Elderly people in the county who decide they no longer want to live by themselves but don’t need the type of care provided at a care facility will soon have a new option to consider.

Alisa Blackketter is taking the skills she learned as a mother of five and applying them to her new venture operating a boarding care home for the elderly in her Marion home.

“They have boarding care homes for the handicapped-what I’m doing is just for the aging who need company and supervision and who live alone and don’t want to live alone,” she said.

The state defines a boarding care home as “any place or facility operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week caring for not more than 10 individuals who due to functional impairment need supervision of activities of daily living but who are ambulatory and essentially capable of managing their own care and affairs.”

“I will not give any hands-on care at all,” Blackketter said. “They need to be able to bathe themselves, handle their own finances-that sort of thing. Yet I’m here to watch.”

As a certified nurse assistant Blackketter saw first hand what could happen to elderly people who didn’t have “somebody there who’s watching and caring for them and making sure they’re getting three meals a day and reminding them to take their medication.

“I have seen how quickly they go from being independent and not needing care to needing care, just with a simple urinary tract infection or something like that,” she said.

In addition to providing a watchful eye over the people living in her home, Blackketter will also provide a home-like environment where the resident is “just part of the family.”

She said interaction with people is one important benefit offered by a boarding care home.

“We have family activities going on, and there are people here all the time,” she said.

Blackketter’s decision to open a boarding care home was driven in part by the needs and experience of her own family.

“My mom recently moved into an assisted-living facility in Houston, Texas, and she hated it,” she said. “She was there two weeks and she said, ‘Get me out of this place-this place is for old people with no other place to go.’

“So I was dealing with this in my own family and wishing that there was another opportunity for people. So I started researching it.”

The boarding care home concept piqued her interest, and she sought out people running boarding care homes nearby.

“Everybody’s been very helpful,” Blackketter said. “There are three of these facilities in McPherson, and they all say there is such a waiting list. The people I’ve spoken with said, ‘We don’t advertise-we just pass the word around via doctors, the Chamber of Commerce, health-care agencies, things like that.'”

She said the other boarding care home operators helped guide her by answering her practical questions and giving her the names of people to contact for information about establishing her own boarding care home.

Blackketter is in the process of becoming licensed by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and hopes to be ready to take in the first resident February.

Once licensed, she will be able to take up to three boarders.

“A boarding care home can be licensed for up to 10 people, but from four up the regulations change, so that’s one of the reasons I stuck with three,” she said. “I didn’t want to have to comply with things like automatic closures on the bedroom doors. This is my house-I want it to be a house, not an institution.”

Each resident will have his or her own bedroom, complete with a telephone and cable TV if desired. Blackketter will cook and serve meals for the residents, do laundry, and chauffeur them to appointments, church and “anything they have need of.”

“We’ll schedule that into our day-that’s what families do,” she said. “You just add it on the calendar. There’s a certain day I go grocery shopping and run errands. So that would be the day they schedule their beauty shop appointment.”

Blackketter will also help ensure residents are taking any required medications.

“I can open the container for them, and I can ask them, ‘Have you taken you medication today?'” she said.

The state is specific about what a boarding care home operator can and cannot do, and residents who need more care than she is permitted to give may have to consider other living options.

Those types of contingencies will be outlined in a contract that each resident will sign.

“If for some reason they are no longer ambulatory, then they have to find another place,” Blackketter said. “If they go into the hospital and they’re there a month, they still have to pay rent here if they are planning on coming back. If for some reason they’re not coming back, there’s a 30-day notice required.”

The contract will also delineate which expenses the resident will pay and which are covered in the cost of the room and board.

“For example, I will pay for any over-the-counter medications,” she said. “I keep Tylenol on hand, cough syrup, that sort of thing. But any prescription medications they will have to pay for. I will keep shampoo stocked-anything I would stock for my kids I will have stocked. But if they want a specific kind of lotion or shampoo, they will buy it.”

In addition to thinking through all the details of managing a boarding care facility, Blackketter and husband Loy are busy getting their home ready for new residents.

Blackketter’s home is set up with bedrooms on two sides of the home with common areas such as living room, dining area, breezeway, and den in-between. The family bedrooms will be located on one side and the residents’ bedrooms on the other side. They are currently readying bedrooms in both areas and are shuffling the children around so the work can be done.

Certain changes must be made to the home to comply with state and fire-marshal regulations.

“I have to get the smoke alarms that are interconnected so that if one goes off over here, I can hear it way over there,” she said. “Another thing we’re going to do is replace wiring in our home. It’s an old house and it’s got old wiring. We want to take care of that problem while we have someone wiring the smoke alarms.”

Blackketter said they also have to install central air conditioning and heat.

“All areas that residents are in have to maintain a temperature between 70 and 85 degrees,” she said.

Egress windows must be added before Blackketter will be granted a license. She also is installing bars in the shower and on the side of the toilet.

“That isn’t a requirement, but I want that there for them,” she said.

Resident safety is a priority for Blackketter. She has a baby monitor in one part of the house so she can hear what’s going on.

“And we’re going to have cameras around in the common areas so while we are upstairs we can see if somebody falls or something happens,” she said.

When the changes to the home are complete and pass the fire marshal’s inspection, Blackketter will be ready to apply for her state license. She said family members are excited about the prospect.

“The kids are so excited,” she said. “My in-laws and my mom are so far away that we don’t have grandparents in our lives. So we’ve always volunteered at the nursing home and I’ve tried to have them interact with elderly. But this is an opportunity to bring them here where they have more contact and more involvement.”

The Blackketters have three children who are still living at home-sons age 17 and 12 and a daughter who is 10. They also have a son in the Army who is stationed in Iraq and a daughter in Texas.

So Blackketter is used to managing a large household, and the new residents will fill the dinner table seats left vacant by the children who have left home.

“They won’t be as chaotic I’m sure,” she said with a laugh. “They won’t take as many showers, have as much laundry, or eat as many groceries.”

Blackketter sees the boarding care home as a win-win situation for everyone involved. In addition to providing an alternative living arrangement for three elderly people, the home will meet her family’s needs as well.

“My heart is at home, I still have kids at home,” she said. “I’m still home schooling one of them. I know how chaotic it gets when you have to work outside the home, because I’ve had to do that for years and years.

“This is giving me the opportunity to be at home and still do what I’m doing-cooking, cleaning, scheduling, ushering people. I’m excited because I can finally help with income but not sacrifice my family.”

But the most rewarding part is being able to provide a safe and loving home to some new friends who might otherwise find themselves faced with a move to a more institutional environment, Blackketter said.

“There’s such a stigma about going into a home,” she said. “This way, I don’t have any signs up-this is just my house. It’s where we live. We just add to our family.”

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