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Birch Manor celebrates 50th anniversary

Date: 8/9/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

CHICOPEE – When Kate Parker purchased the Birch Manor Rehabilitation & Skilled Nursing Center in 1989, nursing homes were considered “a last stop” for patients.

Now, Parker explained, a facility such as Birch Manor is a place that can strengthen a patient in order to live longer ay home.

Birch Manor is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2013 and already has had the honor of being named “Business of the year” by the Chicopee Chamber of Commerce.

Parker, the administrator of the center, said Dr. Sidney Nathans built it in 1963. Many nursing homes at the time were set up in former residential properties and Nathans designed his center more as a hospital wing in order to maximize care, she explained.

In her time as administrator, she said one of the most prominent changes in Birch Manor is that 40 percent of the center’s admissions go back home after receiving specialized care.

“The length of stay has dropped dramatically,” she said.

Among the rehabilitation care the center provides includes stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, head injuries and other neurological conditions, Diminishing functional capabilities resulting from aging or other circumstances and trauma resulting from illness or accident

Parker said that with the changes in type patients and their length of stay has had a beneficial impact on the staff. She explained that seeing people regain the ability to live at home is different than working at a facility where most patients stay until they pass on.

She also said that in 1989, more of the patients had greater cognitive awareness, which meant the center offered different kinds of activities and services.

Now with a greater number of patients suffering from some form of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, different series have been developed.

While larger nursing home chains often have facilities that are dedicated to treating particular condition, Parker said the certifications held by her staff allow the facility to perform more skilled procedures.

When comparing what her staff does to those of larger corporate facilities, she said, “We do it all, just in a smaller scale.”

One characteristic of the center is a staff with fewer turnovers, which Parker sees as an advantage.

Parker said another change is how the center receives payment for its services. When she came aboard in 1989, the center had three revenue streams. Now it has 15 sources.

Many of the patients are covered by MassHealth, which at this time pays $33 less a day per patient than the cost of care.

Parker said Medicare payments cover more of the costs and that those patients who are “private” and who pay with their own savings or long-term care insurance subsidize those patients who are on MassHealth.

Medicare, she explained can be “very confusing,” and discussing plans and benefits “never happens at a good time; it happens at a crisis time.”

She said the center’s director of Social Services spends much time helping patients and families apply for benefits.

With more of the Affordable Care Act becoming law, Parker said, “in theory it’s a good idea. We’ll see how it pans out.”

Specifically she is interested to see how the implementation of electronic health care records will work to streamline patient care. Parker said with all of a patient’s care-providers seeing the same records, multiple orders of the same tests can be eliminated, for example. A doctor can have greater control over the health care of a patient.

Parker, who has been the administrator for the past 24 years, said that working in rehabilitation and skilled nursing is less of a job and more of a “calling.”