Wildflower prepares to add nursing beds

Move comes after new direction from state Health and Social Services

Posted: Sunday, February 23, 2003

Wildflower Court in Juneau hopes to add five nursing beds this year based on new direction from the state Department of Health and Social Services.

The private, nonprofit nursing home and assisted-living facility near Bartlett Regional Hospital has spent the last several months trying to balance demand for its 44 nursing beds and 11 assisted-living beds.

Wildflower Court opened in May 2001, replacing St. Ann's Care Center downtown.

Based on discussions with state officials, Wildflower Court has decided to expand its building and add five beds, said Larry Persily, president of its board of directors. In December, the state turned down a request from Wildflower Court to convert its 11 assisted-living beds to nursing beds as they became available.

"We'd rather have our original plan, but this is a good solution to the problem," he said, referring to the expansion. "This allows us to accommodate some of the needs for skilled nursing beds in the community. Some, but not all."

Health and Social Services Commissioner Joel Gilbertson agreed to a two-pronged approach to the space dilemma after meeting with representatives from Wildflower Court and Bartlett earlier this month.

According to his amended decision, Wildflower Court can use five of its 11 assisted-living beds as nursing beds for nine months. But the facility also must submit construction plans to the state for five new nursing beds within two months.

Nursing-home beds often are used by people who have a serious condition such as heart or lung disease, or who are recovering from medical problems such as a broken hip or pneumonia. Assisted-living beds are geared to people who need some help with daily activities.

In earlier discussions, Wildflower Court officials said they have a high demand for nursing-home beds but haven't been able to fill the assisted-living wing. But state officials responded that Juneau has a growing need for assisted-living beds, and without them seniors might be sent to nursing homes unnecessarily.

Six of Wildflower Court's 11 assisted-living beds are occupied, said Millie Duncan, the facility's finance officer. No one will be dislocated by the change, and Wildflower Court is working on ways to build the addition with minimal disruption to residents, Persily said.

In a December decision, the state suggested Wildflower Court convert 2,400 square feet of space originally slated for adult day care for five new nursing home beds. Persily said the latest decision will allow Wildflower Court to keep using that space for activities and Bartlett's sleep clinic.

In the long term, the facility will try to fill the assisted-living beds through publicity, marketing and outreach, he said.

The new nursing beds likely will be added to an existing wing at a cost of roughly $500,000 to $750,000, Persily said. Wildflower Court is working out how it will finance the addition, he said.

"It's something we think we can swing, but we still need to come up with final plans and get state permission. We'd like to do it this year," he said. "We're looking at the best way to add beds without increasing staffing needs. We want to use the existing nursing stations."

Bartlett hospital staff members have said the shortage of nursing-home beds in Juneau causes some patients to remain in the hospital longer than necessary. Bartlett Administrator Bob Valliant welcomed the new plan.

"It temporarily helps us while they build five new beds," he said. "It takes the strain off the hospital, so it's great."

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.

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