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Friday, November 21, 2014
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Senior-care beds ready, available throughout the north country

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When it comes to senior citizens, the north country has their short- and long-term health care needs covered.

A variety of services from home health aides to keep seniors in their home, rehabilitation to get them on the mend, assisted living and enriched housing to give them some stability in a residence and skilled nursing to provide round-the-clock care, exists throughout Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties. Beds are available, but the amount and specific kind fluctuate daily.

Hundreds of beds are here, and many are available. Most facilities operate at nearly full, while others have struggled to train and then retain enough staff to become fully operational, until now.

Samaritan Summit Village, opened last year, still isn’t full.

“We’re opening up the fourth floor here,” said Anthony E. Joseph, Samaritan vice president of long-term care.

When Samaritan Summit opened last spring, Mr. Joseph said he knew the transition would be gradual, to get people acclimated with the new skilled-nursing and assisted-living complex and to ensure there would be enough staff to care for residents. The Samaritan health system has since increased its certified nursing assistant training sessions. Many graduates of that program go on to work at the senior-care facility. Michael D. Britt, Samaritan’s manager of recruiting, said there were 83 CNAs there as of late last month, and there are 277 CNAs throughout the entire Samaritan system, which also includes the main hospital and its partner nursing home, Samaritan Keep Home.

With those recruitment and retention efforts, Mr. Joseph said he anticipates the 230,000-square-foot complex’s 168 skilled-nursing beds to be full by month’s end. Samaritan Summit Village, 22691 Summit Drive, also has 80 assisted-living beds and 40 enhanced-assisted-living beds. The facility, which sits on 18-acres, opened after Mercy Care Center of Northern New York closed last year.

About two miles from Samaritan Summit Village is Ives Hill Retirement Community, and its neighbor business, The Lodge at Ives Hill. While the retirement community offers private living space and joint amenities for retirees, The Lodge has room for a total of 24 people who need enriched housing.

Maureen E. Larkins, administrative and activities coordinator, said enriched housing is a level of service that is just a step below someone’s full independence. Residents of The Lodge may receive help with medication management and some assistance with daily activities.

As of a few weeks ago, The Lodge had 17 residents. Mrs. Larkins said the occupancy rate fluctuates daily because some residents may die, while others move on to higher levels of service.

Assisted-living would be the next step. Mr. Joseph said very few assisted-living beds have been open at Samaritan Summit Village because the need has been great since the facility opened. The complex has had a list of future tenants to work with, but Samaritan just had to wait to get up to efficient staffing levels.

About 15 miles away in the town of Champion is Meadowbrook Terrace, a 60-bed assisted-living facility on Cole Road. Since the residence was built last year, Carthage Area Hospital has struggled to run at full capacity. Meadowbrook Terrace administrator Joseph W. Millard said he wants the north country communities to know beds are available, and staff members are waiting to help the elderly with basic daily needs.

Recently, the facility has run at about 50 percent occupancy.

“We do get a good number from Carthage, and a good majority are from Jefferson County, but we’ve received six or eight from Evergreen, a place closing in Pulaski,” Mr. Millard said. “We’re starting to see an increase in calls. We work good with Country Manor here, and the Summit’s taken a lot of our residents who need extra care.”

Mr. Millard referred to skilled nursing as an advanced level of care for residents. Carthage Area Hospital has some skilled nursing beds, just not as many as within the entire Samaritan system.

Elsewhere in Jefferson and Lewis counties there are adult homes that provide round-the-clock residential care for adults who do not yet need skilled-nursing or assisted-living.

The last municipally owned adult home — Whispering Pines — closed in Jefferson County last year after the Board of Legislatures washed its hands of having to operate the Coffeen Street facility. Many of those residents moved to Samaritan Summit Village.

United Helpers Management Company operates the last adult home in St. Lawrence County, which the agency has to subsidize because the facility only gets $40.56 per day in reimbursement for its around-the-clock services, according to United Helpers Chief Executive Officer Stephen E. Knight.

Mr. Knight said while there is a continuous evolution of available beds locally for the aging north country population, facilities that provide the most value in taking care of the north country’s elderly residents need to have conversations about moving in a new direction of care. Those discussions are happening, he said, as part of the North Country Health Systems Redesign Commission, which is expected to come out with a report next month.

In St. Lawrence County, United Helpers offers several hundred beds from rehabilitation and home health services on up to assisted-living and skilled-nursing. Mr. Knight said those facilities run at over a 97 percent occupancy rate, and there are people being admitted to various services on a daily basis.

Wanting to make sure the most effective elder-care services are preserved throughout the north country, Mr. Knight said he looks forward to the redesign commission report.

“It’s not an easy task,” he said.

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