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Good people, good care

By KALEY CONNER

kconner@dailynews.net

On a cold January afternoon, Norma Rogers sat at a table with friends crafting colorful, hand-made valentines. She surveyed the scene around her -- the nurses, her companions, the cozy dining room fixtures -- and smiled with satisfaction.

"I love it here," she said.

For Rogers and many others, Good Samaritan Society is home.

From skilled nursing and assisted living to physical therapy and home-based care, the nonprofit corporation offers a wide array of health services in Ellis County and has plans to keep growing.

The Hays skilled nursing facility is licensed for 70 residents, and often is full with a waiting list. It also offers Ellis County's only long-term specialized care unit for patients with Alzheimer's disease.

Another 45-bed skilled nursing facility is located in Ellis.

Staff at both homes strive to keep residents as active and engaged as possible. Activities such as bingo and arts and crafts are planned daily.

"They keep us busy around here," said Louise Elliott, who has lived in the Hays nursing home for three years.

Elliott, without hesitation, said she likes "all the staff."

And the feeling is mutual.

Caring for the elderly is a passion shared by many of the corporation's approximately 200 staff members in Ellis County, said Susan Brown-Jones, administrator of the Hays facilities. As a result, employee longevity is high. Some staff members have been on board for nearly 30 years.

"This is a line of work you have to really want to do," Brown-Jones said. "We are blessed to have people here who are dedicated to what we're doing and why we're doing it and the people we're doing it for.

"That makes a difference."

Changing the culture

Both homes are dedicated to "culture change" -- efforts to make the facilities feel less institutional and more like a home. Homey decor, more flexible patient schedules and a new outdoor courtyard in Ellis are a few steps toward progress.

"I just kind of want them to know this is their home," said Noe Gillespie, administrator of Ellis facilities. "We'll do whatever we can to make it better."

Changing the culture also helps staff relate to residents on a deeper level, Brown-Jones said.

"It gets the staff focused on the fact these people who live here with us are mothers, fathers, sisters, grandparents," she said. "They had lives and they fell in love and they had babies and they buried husbands. They had a full life."

The Ellis facility also houses the nine-unit Meadowlark Assisted Living center, which is equipped with state-of-the-art technology. Good Samaritan Society equips each room with WellAware sensors, which track residents' movements and vital signs.

"They tell us if that resident is doing something out of their routine, say they're going to the bathroom twice as much as they had been," Gillespie said. "I'll know if we need to do an analysis or something. It's very unique for Good Samaritan assisted livings."

Covering the spectrum of care

The corporation also offers several options for those needing less intensive care.

Both nursing facilities offer physical, occupational and speech therapy to residents and community members alike. Outpatient services are available for patients who do not need to leave their homes.

This service enables some residents to have only short-term stays at the nursing facilities. Many patients are admitted to continue therapy after a hospital stay, then return home when they regain strength, said Kathy Morton, director of nursing at the Ellis facility.

Hays also is home to an independent living apartment complex and Home Health of Central Kansas, which offers home-based care to patients in several counties. That service helps residents live in their homes longer and is a more affordable option for many families, said Linessa Rexford, executive manager for home- and community-based services.

"It helps people who are struggling with the physical demands and care of an elderly loved one," she said.

Local services are expected to expand later this year when Good Samaritan Society opens adult day services in Hays. The facility, located in the Hadley Center, will be a place seniors can go for entertainment and care.

The goal is to provide a respite for families caring for loved ones and enable seniors to remain at home for as long as possible, said Ben Anderson, administrator of adult day services.

The project was launched by a grassroots group of residents in 2010, and the corporation partnered with the group to meet an apparent local need, he said.

"I think the biggest thing it will bring to the community is a sense of relief for their loved ones," Anderson said. "Oftentimes, there's somebody who really feels convicted to keep their family member at home, and it will give them some relief to know, 'OK, I can continue to do this longer.' "