A fleet of wheelchair vans and ambulances will transfer hundreds of elderly residents this weekend into a new nursing home on the Erie County Medical Center campus.
Officials today dedicate the 390-bed Terrace View Long-Term Care Facility, which will combine – in one location – long-term care beds from ECMC’s outdated County Home in Alden and its skilled nursing facility inside the hospital.
“The Alden Home served us well, but its age and location made it a problem,” said Jody L. Lomeo, CEO of the medical center. “Now we have a smaller, more efficient facility that offers a family atmosphere and is in line with our mission.”
The transition, months in the planning, will start Saturday with the move of 250 residents from Alden and continue Sunday, when 122 residents from the hospital’s skilled nursing facility move into the $103 million Terrace View, the new building that rises noticeably along the Kensington Expressway at Grider Street.
The new nursing home is organized into small-scale, 12-bed households, each with a living room and fireplace, kitchen and dining room.
Each floor features an outdoor terrace and an indoor terrace lounge with a view to the terrace.
It also includes a 60-bed short-term rehabilitation area, a 20-bed ventilation unit and a 12-bed behavioral intervention unit, as well as beds dedicated to residents with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and traumatic brain injury. The 275,500-square-foot building is connected to the existing hospital and to other facilities on campus via a public corridor.
In addition to the movement of residents, about 400 employees, many of them from the city, will now work on the ECMC campus.
A large portion of the employees, as well as the residents and their families, live in Buffalo or the city’s first-ring suburbs, making the new nursing home a more convenient location to work and visit, officials said.
“The Home in Alden is 16 miles away, and it’s a difficult bus route. That made it hard to recruit and retain employees,” Lomeo said.
Hospital officials estimated that ECMC spent about $900,000 a year to transport residents back and forth between the hospital and the Home, a cost that was on top of the facility’s large annual losses.
ECMC’s nursing home caters to residents dependent largely on Medicaid, the state-federal health plan that picks up long-term-care costs once elderly individuals become poor. Lomeo estimated that the Home’s losses ranged from $4 million to $12 million a year, a situation that posed a challenge for ECMC’s overall financial health.
Hospital officials estimate that use of the new facility will reduce current operating losses by 60 percent.
“Our board might have chosen to close the nursing home, but it made a decision that was mission-, and not financially, driven,” Lomeo said. “The new nursing home will continue to be a challenge, but it’s a far more efficient facility.”
The hospital, a public-benefit corporation, borrowed $98 million for the nursing home project through financing arranged by the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority. The state-appointed control board was able to borrow money at a lower interest rate than the hospital and shortened the repayment period from 30 years to 15.
About 85 percent of the construction cost is reimbursed by Medicaid, according to Thomas J. Quatroche, ECMC’s senior vice president for marketing and planning.
The county also allocated $11.5 million toward construction, under a settlement agreement that ECMC reached with the county in 2009.
The new facility represents a reduction from ECMC’s current total of 586 long-term care beds at the Home and 126 in the hospital, as well as 10 ventilator beds in the hospital. The reduction is based on a state Health Department recommendation for fewer nursing home beds in the region.
Preparations for the transition began about three months ago and follow the hospital’s plan in case of a crisis.
About 20 wheelchair vans, with emergency vehicles on standby, will ferry residents the 16 miles from Alden to Buffalo on Saturday. A similar process will ensue Sunday when residents move from the hospital’s skilled nursing facility.
The operation required a thorough review of the medical needs of each resident, including whether each would need a staff person to accompany the patient, as well as communication with municipalities along the route in case a problem arises, said Charlene J. Ludlow, ECMC’s chief safety officer.
“We’re following the same procedure we do in our drills in case of a crisis,” she said.
After a dry run last week, hospital officials estimated that it will take about 45 minutes per trip from Alden, which includes the time it takes to load and unload the residents in their wheelchairs. The operation is expected to take place in waves over the course of the day.
About 75 people volunteered to help Saturday and 60 people Sunday, Ludlow said.
Even the move from the hospital’s skilled nursing facility poses a challenge because there are not enough employees available to push that many people in wheelchairs down the public corridor, she said. As a result, those residents also will be transported by wheelchair van.
The Erie County Home dates from 1829, when a facility known as the county poorhouse opened in the city, according to a history provided by ECMC. The poorhouse provided accommodations to paupers and vagrants. As services later turned toward long-term care to the elderly, the Erie County Board of Supervisors in 1926 built the massive 600,000-square-foot County Home in Alden.
ECMC will turn over the Home to the county as part of a past agreement.
The county hired Hamilton Houston Lownie Architects to mothball the facility and investigate a possible reuse, although officials in the past have noted that it will be difficult to find a reuse for the building. Hospital officials estimated that it would take at least $18 million in improvements to bring the Home up to modern standards.
Mothballing will include shutting off the heat, draining water lines, disconnecting utilities and installing a fence and security system, according to Peter Anderson, a spokesman for County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz.
The new nursing home joins Kaleida Health’s HighPointe on Michigan nursing home, which opened in late 2011, in filling a gap in long-term services left by the closings, in recent years, of Grace Manor, Nazareth, St. Francis and other skilled nursing facilities in the city. It also is part of a five-year, $200 million expansion on ECMC’s campus that includes a Regional Center of Excellence for Transplantation & Kidney Care that opened last year.