Three months after Vashon Community Care announced it would close its skilled nursing unit, several residents have been moved to other facilities, and the center is working toward offering memory care as early as next spring.
Bellevue-based Transforming Age, which now operates VCC, announced in late April it would make this transition, saying it had been unable to make the facility financially sustainable since acquiring it in 2017. Now, it is aiming to renovate the former skilled nursing rooms into studio apartments for those needing memory care and enhanced assisted living services. Many of the former residents have moved on to other skilled nursing facilities as close as Tacoma and as far away as Ellensburg, according to VCC Executive Director Mike Schwartz.
When Transforming Age announced this decision, officials said they hoped to retain as many residents as possible from the 22 who were in the skilled nursing unit. In the end, Schwartz said, seven were able to stay at VCC. The affected families were given options of facilities to choose from and were able to make the final decisions regarding where the person would go, he added. The majority of residents moved in June, Schwartz said, with the final person moving out at the end of July.
As part of this transition away from skilled nursing services, VCC is providing enhanced assisted living services, offering care beyond what it did previously in assisted living. Those services include a greater amount of personal hygiene care, the use of a mechanical lift for transfers and, on a case-by-case basis, additional expanded services for residents who will need them for a defined period of time, such as during a recovery period after surgery or illness.
“This is our assurance to the island of Vashon, we will do everything in our power and abilities to work with families and providers to keep someone where they are as long as possible as long as it is not a danger to the person or the community and staff,” Schwartz said. “The person comes first.”
The residents from the skilled nursing unit who remained at VCC have moved into the assisted living quarters. The move is temporary with the hope that they will soon move back to their old rooms once state licensing requirements are complete, Schwartz said. Should that process take longer than anticipated, Schwartz said these moves might become a longer term solution to avoid further upheaval.
“We want as few moves as possible,” he said.
With this transition, Transforming Age recently laid off three nurses from the skilled nursing unit. Schwartz said Transforming Age had previously budgeted to have nurses 16 hours each day, but its current budgeting and low census do not support that many hours. Instead, now VCC has eight hours of resident-specific, direct-care nurses each day. He added he and Transforming Age are working with the individuals, whom he called “great nurses” to come up with options.
He added that while the nursing staff has been reduced now, it does not mean it will be that way forever.
“It will be great when we get them back,” he said.
Currently, VCC is in the master planning stages for its renovation work and is close to submitting plans to the county. Officials had been hoping for a Sept. 1 start date for construction, Schwartz said, but a county delay has slowed that down. He added they are anticipating a four-to five month construction timeline, with the project expected to be complete at the end of January or February.
Families who are potentially interested in memory care should not hesitate to contact VCC, even though those services are some months away. Schwartz stressed the importance of planning ahead and said he would provide facility tours himself.
“Waiting until it is too late can cause extra stress and anxiety, while moving a little before it feels like someone is totally ready is helpful,” he said.
He noted that with a move in that seems a bit early, the person can settle in better and can get to know the people around them — residents, staff and volunteers.
“If we are making this about the person and making them feel comfortable before there is an emergency, then we have all won,” he said.
Two of VCC’s current residents who receive Medicaid benefits are expected to move into memory care when it opens, Schwartz said. But going forward those accommodations will only be for residents able to pay privately. In assisted living, however, residents with Medicaid will continue to be accepted.
Initially, VCC had expected to launch a $3 million capital campaign this summer, but Schwartz said that launch has been delayed during this transition.
“We need to focus on the memory care and getting that up and going. Once we are at a place where we feel comfortable and confident, we will get that re-established,” he said.