Senior living facilities have taken the brunt of the bad press during the COVID-19 pandemic. Negligence and uncertainty have surrounded nursing homes with doubt and made senior residents more vulnerable than ever.
However, contrary to popular belief, research shows that 39 percent of skilled nursing facilities experienced no deaths in 2020. These numbers, though, have increased in recent months due to the complexities of staff shortages and the enforced vaccine mandate, which has impacted the level of care given to residents within facilities.
Still, the difficulties of the past eighteen months have not prevented some long term care facilities, like the Good Samaritan Nursing Home, from showing resolve in the face of the prevailing hardships, even expanding and blossoming into the largest, non-profit, long term care organization in America.
The Good Samaritan Nursing Home has been able to emerge unscathed from infection control challenges, complex budget cycles, staff pressures, and limited relief funds in large part due to its outstanding leadership. Nate Schema, the Vice President of Operations for the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, recently spoke about the process of guiding the organization through these rough waters on the LTC podcast.
The History of Good Samaritan Nursing Homes
With a rich history dating back to the early 1920s, the Good Samaritan Society was founded as a religious, charitable, and non-profit organization. Their founding father, Reverend August “Dad” Hoeger, was a hard-working student of God who recognized that the elderly and disabled needed help.
The first Good Samaritan Society Center, Arthur House, was opened in 1923. Even though living conditions were difficult and water was scarce, the house became a haven teaching faith, compassion, and kindness. These values are still prevalent in today’s Good Samaritan nursing homes.
By 1952, Hoeger’s vision and determination led the Society into establishing thirty-two centers across seven states. In 2021, there are now more than 200 Good Samaritan nursing homes spanning across twenty-four states. The organizational culture has also retained its integrity by supporting and providing comfort to those in need.
Schema, like Hoeger, recognizes the need to “invest in those around you, in the community, in the people, so great things can continue.” Their vision is to share God’s love while making their residents feel special is part of their charm and why they have had so much success over the years.
In every Good Samaritan nursing home, residents receive tailored care catering to their individual needs. Their commitment to quality is second to none, as they emphasize giving their residents space, dignity, and independence. Their faith-driven principles attract people like Schema, who is a perfect fit for the organization, being someone of faith with a nurturing nature who understands and loves, in his own words, “interactions with residents, doing the rounds, and listening to them share their stories and experiences.”
Bear in mind that the long term care industry is people-centric, meaning facilities are expected to put the resident first. A resident’s quality of life is directly impacted by his or her quality of care, activities of daily living (ADLs), interactions, and meaningful relationships.
Unfortunately, not all nursing homes fulfill these expectations. A recent study shows that only 30 percent of nursing facility staff take the time to learn about a resident’s life, therefore impacting the mental wellbeing of the residents.
In order to better ensure that residents’ needs are met, the CMS created a Five-Star Quality Rating System, measuring the quality of care in facilities, in 2019. The rating system allows residents and their families to compare nursing facilities and make better choices.
The CMS quality rating system focuses on three areas:
- Health Inspections – CMS sends trained surveyors to inspect nursing facilities. Facilities are expected to follow specific guidelines that determine whether the facility meets Medicare and Medicaid minimum quality requirements. Surveyors usually review the three most recent inspections, emphasizing the most current survey findings.
- Staffing – Surveyors also assess the level of care given to each resident. Staff is expected to provide a certain number of hours per resident per day. The number of hours varies depending on the state along with the level of care needed.
- Quality Measures (QMs) – The quality measure rating considers both the resident’s physical and clinical needs. This information allows CMS to measure how well nursing facilities are caring for their residents’ needs. See the CMS’ Quality Measures User manual for complete details.
Besides providing residents with exceptional quality of care, nursing facilities also have other factors to consider, such as budgets and funding. As the Vice President of Operations, Schema understands firsthand how difficult it has been during the pandemic. “I’ve never seen a more challenging budget cycle than we’re experiencing right now,” he said. Part of the problem is due to the exponential rising costs of labor, which has impacted the long term care industry.
In 2009, the U.S. Dept. of Labor also increased minimum wage and overtime regulations across several states, which significantly impacted the finances of nursing facilities. Vicki Sebell, the Executive Director of Home Care and Hospice Alliance of Maine, noted that state-funded reimbursement programs have been stagnant for the past 15 years. “When government states increase costs for providers, the providers should be adequately reimbursed, especially if 100 percent of the care delivered by the agency is government-funded,” she opined. Only then, she maintains, will the reimbursement be reflective of the added costs.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has also added pressure for more extensive facilities like the Good Samaritan nursing homes. It requires employers of a specific size to offer health insurance or risk facing financial penalties. Schema notes that ACA complications have increased labor costs by 20 percent. “And this is in addition to the pressures of various state reimbursement systems and the need to ensure leaders can understand and operationalize them,” he said.
Another complexity long term care facilities face is Medicare’s Patient-Driven Payment Model (PDPM), which has changed the way funding is allocated to facilities. The previous RUG-IV system classified residents according to a therapy payment group. This meant they prioritized the volume of therapy services for payment classification rather than assessing the resident’s individual needs. This system proved ineffective, causing inappropriate financial incentives.
The 2019 newly revised PDPM system eliminates this incentive, thus improving SNF payments’ overall accuracy and appropriateness. The new system classifies resident payment groups based on specific, resident-driven data while reducing the amount of administration for facilities. However, the reaction to the new PDPM system has created confusion for facilities finding it challenging to implement and accommodate the ever-changing regulations.
What Sets the Good Samaritan Society Apart?
While long term care facilities typically emphasize the services they provide, the Good Samaritan Society differentiates itself with a spiritual purpose that guides and shapes the organization. Its mission is to be “dedicated to sharing God’s love through the work of health, healing, and comfort.”
These explicit Christian values are taken into consideration by potential residents and staff members alike, who are often drawn to their facilities in order to serve a higher purpose. Further, designated spaces for communal chapels attract residents who appreciate the convenience of a regular place of worship without the need to travel.
On account of the centrality of Christian and human values in this organization, Good Samaritan nursing homes highlight the life stories of their residents, a practice that is encouraged as a way of building better connections with residents. These inspiring stories give Good Samaritan residents a voice, shining a light on how they treat their residents as human beings rather than numbers filling a bed.
A Good Samaritan nursing home is a place where the wellbeing of residents is taken very seriously. Those involved at this organization consider it their duty to “serve residents and provide the highest quality care possible,” which they do by listening to their residents and then finding creative solutions. As Schema puts it, he is able to pivot communication through the lens of his staff and residents to better tell their stories. You can find a number of Good Samaritan nursing home stories on their “Our Stories” page.
The Lifestyle Offered in Good Samaritan Nursing Homes
For any organization to prosper and grow, it must also provide a wide range of exceptional services. Typical Good Samaritan nursing homes cater to the individual needs of their residents. For example, the Good Samaritan nursing homes in Davenport, captures the charm of Victorian mansions with individual serviced apartments that include utilities, internet, cable television, maintenance, housekeeping, and meal prep.
Most of their nationwide facilities allow residents to choose the appropriate level of care needed with the added freedom to decorate their apartments as they please. This gives residents the comfort of having their familiar effects, helping to ease the process of moving into a new home and community.
It is easy to see why the Good Samaritan facilities are so popular. Their wide range of independent living options across their facilities allows residents to retain their independence and dignity while providing the required assistance. Their nationwide campuses are additionally equipped with communal activities and common spaces like libraries, laundry facilities, and fitness areas, which allows plenty of social opportunities and creates a strong sense of community.
Finally, their Continuum of Care service is available at their campuses nationwide, providing multiple levels of care within the same facility. This is especially useful because when a person ages, their health care needs will invariably change over time.
Continuum of Care gives seniors access to both non-medical and in-home services and memory care and hospice services later if needed. It preempts residents and family worries, knowing that if more specialized care is necessary, they will not stress looking for and moving to another facility.
The Reach of a Good Samaritan Nursing Home
What makes a Good Samaritan nursing home stand out is its willingness to adapt to various contexts. Innovation is a key to managing a successful long term care facility. It creates an engaging environment based on collaboration and fast responses to the residents’ needs.
In recent years, the Good Samaritan Society has been integrating more media into its PR strategy, becoming a public figure on both a national and local level. Its leaders came to realize that the public perception of long term care facilities is misunderstood.
Contrary to popular belief, modern facilities are often beautifully designed spaces with a close-knit community. Seniors can participate in numerous social activities while being surrounded by peers with whom they develop meaningful relationships. They are places where seniors can live some of the best years of their lives, knowing services are tailored to their individual needs providing comfort and peace of mind.
Knowing of this challenge, the Good Samaritan Society set out to educate the public by asking members of the community to share their stories and then inviting children in order to hear about healthcare heroes. Schema realized that, by embracing the role of a public figure, he would be able to give the long term care industry a voice to express honest feedback and the opportunity to address industry hardships.
Being a reputable organization in the long term care industry means the Good Samaritan Society has an obligation to voice their concerns by being, in the words of Schema, “completely transparent, providing visibility into everything they’re doing, so people can understand the why behind all the complexity.” He is confident that the future is bright for long term care. “Hang in there,” he said. “Let’s lock arms and provide for our residents in a whole new way to move forward.”