Guest Columns

Senior living innovation in rural America

Share this content:
Eric Schubert
Eric Schubert

The United States' rural population of 50 million people is larger than nearly all the world's nations. How can rural communities rethink and repurpose their nursing home or other infrastructure to help people healthfully age in place? How do we reduce isolation and expand community collaboration to improve well-being? These are essential questions for America's vitality.

With generous support of a $3 million grant from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, Ecumen will gain valuable insights to these questions. The grant supports transforming a nursing home on Ecumen Detroit Lakes' campus, which is located in Northern Minnesota, into what we envision as a one-stop aging services hub.  Redevelopment work will begin this Spring with completion in 2014.

Maximizing and repurposing the existing nursing home, we envision a community hub that combines preventive health services, socialization and learning opportunities, fitness, technology and sub-acute and acute care.    

Services will be paid for through a combination of private dollars, Medicare, private insurance and philanthropy. We anticipate this will be a replicable model for other communities.

This initiative will benefit current Ecumen customers in Detroit Lakes, but we see it opening doors much wider, improving the lives of a diversity of ages. Components will include:

•            A telehealth center for physicians, nurses and other health care professionals to conduct patient consultations. This will ease patient travel, enhance information sharing among health care professionals, and help reduce hospital readmissions.
•            The rehabilitation center will have 30 private suites for short-term stays and offer physical, occupational and speech therapy. Those benefitting could range from the 17-year-old student recovering from a football injury to his father who is regaining strength after hip replacement surgery to his grandmother who is rehabilitating after a stroke.
•            A warm-water pool and fitness center will also appeal cross-generationally. After building a warm-water pool at an Ecumen community in the exurban Twin Cities, it quickly became popular with our senior customers and younger customers from the larger community.
•            Socialization and learning are essential to wellness and enriching mind, body and spirit. The Ecumen Detroit Lakes center will have classrooms for lectures, classes and workshops;  an internet café; dining room; a salon; and a labyrinth area for meditation, prayer and reflection.

In most U.S. rural communities, this combination of features and services either doesn't exist or is geographically scattered.  We believe a hub approach can provide multiple benefits across the community. For example, area physicians will have a partner in physical therapy, care and health monitoring to better coordinate health information; transportation approaches can be focused on a single destination; and it can help better define and coordinate acute care and non-acute care services in the larger community.

“The Times They are a Changin',” sang Northern Minnesota native Bob Dylan. We believe this particular change will provide valuable learning for making rural America a great place to grow up and grow old.

Eric Schubert is vice president of communications and public affairs at Ecumen.

Guest Columns

Guest columns are written by long-term care industry experts, ranging from academics and thought leaders to administrators and CEOs.