Care center announces new partnership

Six months after Providence Health and Services announced it was cutting ties with Vashon Community Care, a new partner will begin working with the center to carry it forward.

Bellevue-based Transforming Age is expected to affiliate with the care center effective Dec. 1.

Transforming Age is a nonprofit dedicated to enhancing the lives of older adults. Now 60 years old, the organization operates several senior living communities in three states: Washington, Minnesota and Nebraska, and also recently affiliated with Seattle’s Full Life Care, an adult day health and in-home care not-for-profit organization.

Officials at Vashon Community Care (VCC) and Transforming Age expressed enthusiasm for the new partnership last week. Verna Everitt, who heads the Vashon Community Care Foundation and has been the spokesperson for the transition, said the affiliation will provide new opportunities for VCC, which has required considerable community support to keep its doors open.

“I am excited that they are coming in to align with our values and our shared mission. As a nonprofit, they are investing in our future. That is exactly what we all wanted,” she said.

Transforming Age President and CEO Torsten Hirche shared similar thoughts.

“Our mission as a nonprofit is to serve seniors, and we are always looking for like-minded organizations to join with,” he said. “We believe that working together will make us stronger in the long run.”

As part of the agreement, Transforming Age will assume Vashon Community Care’s debt and its $6 million Housing and Urban Development loan, Everitt said. VCC’s board of directors, chaired by Susan Hanson, will step down, and VCC will operate under the Transforming Age board of directors, but maintain its own nonprofit status. The current administrator, Holly Shepherd, who is a Providence employee, will leave, and Transforming Age will bring in its own administrator, Everitt said. The VCC Foundation board will remain intact, and its members will serve as a bridge between the community and Transforming Age, she added. For the next two years, the foundation board will continue to raise funds for operations and then is expected to shift to raising funds for capital expenses, including VCC’s aging building and equipment.

Meanwhile, for residents of the center, Everitt said it will be business as usual with no immediate changes planned, although changes in the future are possible.

Hirche agreed.

“Continuing VCC’s mission is the overarching headline,” he said.

Over the years since several community members stepped in to save the care center when it was set to close in 1995, much has been said of the promise made then to serve VCC residents regardless of their ability to pay — meaning that the center would care for its residents if they depleted their savings and had to rely on Medicaid for payment. Hirche said Transforming Age is committed to serving seniors across the economic spectrum and will honor that promise, although some guidelines might change. For example, he said, it might be that incoming residents will need two to three years worth of money to pay privately for their care before transitioning to Medicaid — a policy not currently in place at VCC. Part of VCC’s financial difficulties over the years has stemmed from the fact that Medicaid, which provides payment for medical care for people with low incomes, only covers a fraction of the cost of care in both skilled nursing and assisted living.

Financial stability at VCC is important so that it can continue to serve seniors, Hirche said. He added that all the Transforming Age entities are expected to “stand on their own feet” financially.

“We know that VCC can do the same while fulfilling the mission of economic diversity,” he added.

Hirche also asked for time and space to work with the residents and staff at VCC to provide stability before moving on to new ventures.

“Right now we are focused on transitioning,” he said. “(Later) we will begin strategic and master planning in the community and then see how we can better serve the community better through VCC.”

This affiliation is welcome news to one of VCC’s largest donors, Ray Aspiri, who said he has family and friends at other Transforming Age facilities. Before he spoke about the recent announcement, he was quick to thank Providence for all the work it has done to support VCC over the years. He recounted a story from about six years ago when there was $450,000 owed by VCC on Providence’s books. Aspiri called Robert Hellrigel, Providence’s chief executive officer of Senior and Community Services, and asked him if he would forgive the debt. As Aspiri told it, Hellrigel said he could not write off the $450,000, but he could write off the accumulated $1.9 million VCC owed instead.

“I am not sure that the community or board members remember that taking place,” Aspiri added.

He also said that he and other longtime, large donors had expressed concerns about VCC’s lack of financial sustainability, with some donors hesitant to continue supporting it if the financial picture had not changed. In all, he said, he believes that the group of large donors has contributed more than $3 million in the last decade to help keep VCC’s doors open.

Now, he added, he is optimistic about the care center and its residents, in part because Transforming Age has been successful in caring for elders at its other locations.

“I am very excited about the future welfare of our parents, grandparents and friends who can be on Vashon and not be disconnected from Vashon by having to go to Seattle,” he added.

Looking ahead, Aspiri also cautioned patience as Transforming Ages steps in.

“You cannot make that transition in a couple of weeks. It is going to take time,” he said.

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