(Editor’s note: In this story, the third in a series on elderly care and nursing homes, ECM Publishers goes inside the Elim Care & Rehab Center in Princeton and examines how the facility provides quality health care. Its corporate office is located in Eden Prairie.)
by Howard Lestrud
ECM Political Editor
“It’s simply amazing.”
That’s how Todd Lundeen, campus administrator of the Elim Care & Rehab Center in Princeton, refers to Minnesota’s top ranking in the nation for quality nursing home care. The ranking came from a survey, published in September 2011, by The Commonwealth Fund, an AARP group.
Lundeen is in his 25th year at Elim and said the ranking is amazing in spite of costs being ratcheted down due to inadequate state funding and rigorous regulations.
Nursing homes did receive an increase in funding from the Minnesota Legislature this past session, and that indeed helps, but challenges remain on the horizon, Lundeen said. Higher reimbursement helps but doesn’t necessarily mean better care, Lundeen said.
Lundeen also uses the word “amazing” in describing nursing home employees, Elim employees in particular. He praises the professionalism of his well-trained staff.
Workers take pride in putting smiles on the faces of residents.
“When this happens, I feel it means a connection took place between them and me,” Dawn Quale, an Elim nursing assistant, said. “We exchanged a moment of joy, a moment of contentment,” she added.
Another worker, Teresa Gerth, said satisfaction of providing quality care comes “in knowing that I am treating them the way I would want to be treated – keeping the Golden Rule – serving in the spirit of Christ’s love.”
The nursing home industry is one with real challenges, Lundeen said, “because there’s so much to be done and so many rules to follow.” He said staff gets frustrated with that and may say they are going somewhere else to work.
Staffers and volunteers at Elim are valuable resources, Lundeen said.
“We are so thankful there are people so giving in our society and willing to make such a difference in people’s lives,” Lundeen said. Workers aren’t going into senior health care jobs for just the paycheck, Lundeen said.
Getting on the career path
Lundeen has been a fan of senior care since age 11, when he worked for his father, who was an administrator of a nursing home in Buffalo. He said he carried No. 10 cans of food from delivery trucks to the nursing home and was then promoted to pushing a 20-inch Lawn-Boy lawn mower on the property.
“I loved being around grandmas and grandpas, and this led to me majoring in senior care in college,” Lundeen said.
Following college, he accepted an internship at Sartell and then took further nursing home training that eventually led to his position at Elim. He worked four years at Presbyterian Homes in St. Paul and also logged two years in assisted living at Woodland Acres in Brainerd.
“I was reminded of the big difference senior care makes in the lives of people every day,” Lundeen said.
An underdog at birth, being two months premature, Lundeen said he knows what it takes to help be a champion for people who are considered lesser. He said the senior care profession was a life calling and goal for him.
It doesn’t take long to see how much Lundeen enjoys his daily duties as a nursing home administrator. Just walk the halls with him and there is no one, staff or residents, whose name Lundeen does not know. He knows his workers and residents like family.
The Elim Care & Rehab Center currently employs 150 and is ranked one of the largest employers in Princeton. Elim has 113 beds, providing general nursing care, assisted living at the adjoining Caley House and adult day care at the Freshwaters Methodist Church in Princeton.
The Elim facility was founded in 1927. In addition to the Princeton facility, Elim has nine other facilities in central Minnesota including Buffalo and Milaca and in Bismarck, N.D., Fargo, N.D., and in Des Moines, Iowa.
Elim is a health care organization “built on serving in the spirit of Christ’s love,” Lundeen explained.
When it was founded 86 years ago, it was meant to be an alternative to what was known as the poor farm. A historical pamphlet says the name of “Elim” is translated to “rest after trial” according to Exodus 15:27.
Hardware store owner Thomas Caley’s home was sold to the Minnesota branch of the Swedish Evangelical Free Church for the consideration of $10,000. The property was to be used as a home for the aged men and women of the church.
Times were tough then and extended into the Great Depression. People actually brought in produce to help feed the people who lived there. The people did what they did to live together in community, Lundeen said.
The original structure was then demolished, with a dinner bell and some other items being preserved for architecture purposes. Another house was located to the south and served as a home for Lundeen and his family until 18 years ago.
The Elim care center had 140 beds when Lundeen joined the staff 25 years ago. That total has been reduced to 113. Assisted living was added in 1997 with the construction of The Caley House, which has 30 apartments, with three choices of apartment sizes.
Elim Oasis was added in 2000 as adult day care and is still operated at the Methodist church one block away. The adult day care utilizes Sunday school classrooms and the fellowship hall during the week.
Senior care has changed immensely in recent years with long-term care resulting in an average stay of one year, Lundeen said. Rehabilitation care is a major service offered when a patient with an acute illness comes from the hospital or surgical center to the rehab center.
On any given day, 15-20 patients are in the process of rehabilitation and “are called our frequent fliers,” Lundeen joked. “We send 150 people home each year,” he said.
Elim is not a place to come and die, “it is a place to come and live,” Lundeen said.
The facility offers full-time chaplain service and serves all faiths. This helps residents with all challenges of life.
“It’s not always easy to face crisis and the emotions of life,” Lundeen added.
The care center’s spiritual leader and director is Dan Osborn, a pastor. He visits often with the residents “in their journey to see Jesus,” Lundeen said. Bible studies are also very popular at Elim.
Lundeen said seniors choose Elim for their care and aging because of the quality, faith-based care as well as geography. Many of the residents at Elim and at the Caley House come from Mille Lacs County and 46 percent come from the metropolitan counties of Sherburne, Benton, Stearns, Anoka and Hennepin. Many residents also come from other parts of the Twin Cities.
Elim is just under 92 percent occupied, which is above the state average.
The general nursing care facility is divided into households containing a maximum of 17 residents each. Elim must provide residents with three meals a day, social services, spiritual care and dental services. At the Caley House, residents receive two meals a day and also benefit from assistance with light housekeeping.
Forty-six levels of care are offered and paid by private pay or medical assistance. Medicare has 30 categories of care, Lundeen said.
Elim’s nursing assistants must be trained and registered through an 84-hour course. Most of the staff are professionally trained. Elim’s services are provided by registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and other trained staff.
Elim takes pride in its 60-plus volunteers, whom Lundeen calls “phenomenal” in helping take residents on field trips and other outings.
A trained staff of physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists can be found at Elim. This therapy helps people return home, Lundeen said.
A partnership also exists with Fairview Northland Hospital and Elim.
“Fairview is a real pearl of the community,” he said.
Fairview supplies two geriatric nursing practitioners, Cindy Leohlein and Victoria Noble, who are officed at Elim and thus visit patients in the facility.
With changing regulations of nursing homes, challenges become greater, Lundeen said. The nursing home industry is the second highest regulated industry, behind nuclear energy, Lundeen said.
Nursing home facilities are also underfunded by $28 a day less than what the actual costs are to provide care for residents.
Elim operates on an $8 million budget. It is funded 70 cents on the dollar for staff.
To meet budget, Elim has had to adjust benefit packages of staff but has been fortunate not to experience many layoffs. Elim has to meet many requirements and does not find much low-hanging fruit to adjust costs, Lundeen said.
Transportation costs have also caused a strain on nursing homes, Lundeen said. Nearly everything is delivered to Elim.
“It’s a real struggle for staff because these people want to care for their residents in the best way possible,” Lundeen said.
Applicants for health care positions are required to undergo criminal background checks. The Minnesota Department of Health reportedly does 360,000 background checks of potential health care applicants.
Activity at Elim
Elim is always looking for ways to improve its health care, Lundeen said. Five years ago, Elim received a $200,000 grant to provide 55 staff members with training to be nursing assistant certified. Elim also expanded its dining facilities from one dining room serving 140 people to six dining rooms.
Organized activities are many for Elim residents.
“We need volunteers to make this possible,” Lundeen said.
They go in the spring to local greenhouses and nurseries to pick out plants. The residents also go on outings to Twins games, to the Science Museum of Minnesota, to the Minnesota Zoo and on shopping expeditions. Elim entertained more than 600 at a community block party and pig roast on Sunday, Aug. 18.
Howard Lestrud can be reached at [email protected]
NEXT IN THE SERIES: Part 4 – Guardian Angels of Elk River offers senior housing, community support, assisted living and long-term and short-term care. It has been part of the Elk River community since 1965. Today, it offers many lifestyle choices and service options to meet the needs of seniors and their families.