VCC’s new therapy program helps people rebuild their lives

When Barbara Gross moved into an assisted living apartment at Vashon Community Care last December, she was confined to a wheelchair after injuring her back in a fall. But now, after several weeks dedicated to rehabilitation, she regularly uses a walker and navigates stairs.

In her recovery, Gross relied on a new service VCC is offering to both its residents and Islanders at large, Vashon Community Therapy. Through it, health care professionals offer physical, occupational and speech therapies to people who qualify for such services, whether the need is from an injury, illness or surgery.

Gross gives the service high praise. “It just changed my life,” she said.

In 2011, VCC first offered rehabilitation services on an inpatient basis to people who had been released from a hospital but needed further care before they could go home. Since then, the service has grown. So far this year, the new program has served roughly 70 people, including about 45 residents of the assisted living facility, according to nursing home administrator Janelle Ansell. It provides services on both an in- and out-patient basis and, she said, has room to grow.

The center, with a commitment to serving Islanders regardless of their financial resources, has long existed on an extremely tight budget in part because of how it is reimbursed for care. For residents receiving Medicaid, the government pays only 74 percent of the cost of their care in the skilled nursing facility and 49 percent of the cost of care in assisted living. VCC makes up the difference.

As a result, providing this rehabilitation service made sense on two levels, Ansell said. It serves a need on the Island and provides another stream of revenue.

Ansell stepped into her role at VCC in January 2011 and noticed immediately that there was no dedicated rehabilitation space, she said. She also noticed that many residents of the assisted living quarters could benefit from such services.

Some of them were receiving care in their apartments from Swedish’s home care program, and when that service shut down on Vashon abruptly last fall, Ansell said she contacted Providence to see if it might offer the home care services. VCC stepped up its efforts to provide the services as well.

Without such in-homeservices on the Island, Ansell said, she knew many people would simply go without — and be the worse for it.

Vashon Community Therapy offers a variety of services, each of which is important, Ansell said. Physical therapy helps people increase their strength and mobility; occupational therapy helps people maintain as much independence as possible and learn new ways to handle their daily activities, and speech therapy assists not just with talking, but also with eating and cognition.

“It’s a very important part of wellness,” Ansell said. “It makes a difference in people’s lives.”

VCC currently employs a staff of seven part-time professionals to provide these therapies, as well as Jan Kittleson, the director of rehabilitation services. The services are especially intended for older people or those with disabilities.

“Our focus is there,” said Lynn Davison, the board chair. “We want to honor that.”

In February, Ansell said, VCC moved its adult day care program to a different room, and the rehabilitation program took its former space — a large light-filled area, now with a variety of equipment, including a set of stairs, parallel bars, an exercise machine similar to a seated elliptical trainer and a full kitchen, useful in addressing a variety of rehabilitation needs.

VCC staff have been in touch with Group Health Cooperative about providing rehabilitative services for Islanders who are Group Health members, Davison said, and the board and staff are hopeful that request will move forward.

“We love partnering, looking for places we can be value-added,” Davison said. “We like to be a resource to the broader community and have the community be tapped into us.”

In other news at VCC, Davison said that the center hopes to refinance its mortgage this fall and create a substantial savings each year. To do so will require a major fundraising campaign, which VCC plans to unveil soon.

Currently, VCC is locked into a HUD-backed mortgage with an interest rate above 7 percent. That lock is about to expire, and Davison expects VCC will be able to secure a new mortgage at 3.5 percent or lower, saving the cash-strapped facility $200,000 a year or more in mortgage payments and $9 million over the course of the loan.

“It’s just an amazing opportunity,” she said. A refinance, she added, will “take the heat off our very tight financial situation.”

Ansell and Davison both said the first priority once the refinancing is completed is to create an operating reserve, which VCC currently does not have. Following that, Ansell said she would like to see some of the new-found money go toward resident programming, including adding staff to support more activities. There are many activities already, she said, but people would like more.

“The residents want to be busy. They want to be challenged. … They want to get off the Rock,” Ansell said. “Another full-time employee would make a big difference.”


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