A new look at Lancaster Manor

2012-11-26T06:00:00Z A new look at Lancaster ManorBy NANCY HICKS / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

It's all quiet in the Husker Room on Football Friday.

Down the hall, there's a family party in progress.

But in the Husker Room, no one is groaning while Big Red lags behind the Iowa Hawkeyes early in the game. The new checkers set is dusted and waiting, the red and white helmets of NU facing the blue and white helmets of KU.

Not exactly Big Ten -- the University of Kansas belongs to Nebraska's old conference, the Big 12 --  but “it’s what they had for sale,” Joe Zimmerman says.

Zimmerman, the Chicago-based chief operating officer of Altitude Health Services, parent company of the Lancaster Manor Rehabilitation Center, has been spending a lot of time in Lincoln during the past year, overseeing a $2.5 million remodel of much of the nursing home’s first floor.

Zimmerman is proud of the new bistro, where residents and guests can get a dish of ice cream, a popcorn snack, buy a sandwich --  or just sit and look out to the courtyard.  

But he's most proud of what is atop the bistro: A new rooftop terrace overlooking the courtyard that gives folks in the manor’s locked dementia unit on its second floor a way to get outdoors. 

Before the remodeling, these residents had no access to sun on their faces, no chance to breathe in the crisp air of a fall morning. The fenced-in patio gives both residents and their families a way to be safely outside.   

Zimmerman was dead-set on creating the terrace for these people. The bistro underneath, making a new first-floor room by enclosing the footings for the terrace, was an afterthought -- a good afterthought, he says.

Since the new owners, a private company, purchased the county-owned nursing home in early 2010, they have remodeled much of the first floor, creating an open entryway and adding rooms for resident activities. 

There's a new library and computer room where residents can keep up with their email or play Internet solitaire; a theater where residents will watch "It's a Wonderful Life" and "White Christmas" during the next month.

The company also has quadrupled the size of the manor's therapy gym, where a wall of one-way windows now allows those inside to see the lawn and South Street beyond, but prevents those outside from seeing in.  

The remodel included upgrading one of the manor's five living units. The 30 rooms used by short-term rehabilitation patients, those who come for a few weeks to a month, have new cabinetry, flat screen TVs and a look Zimmerman hopes is a blend of hotel and home.

The manor has doubled its number of rehab patients. Medicare payments for those 25 patients help a company’s bottom line.

Medicare, which covers only short-term stays in nursing homes, has better reimbursement rates than Medicaid, which pays costs for long-term care for people without money.  

Medicare covers costs and sometimes contributes to a profit margin, says Heath Boddy, CEO at the Nebraska Health Care Association, which represents long-term care facilities in the state. 

Those dollars help pay for other things.

Lancaster Manor has never really been into the private rehab market.  But that’s what they need to do to sustain themselves over the long term, Boddy said.

County government didn’t have the money to remodel and expand the rehabilitation program. The sale allowed these changes, said County Commissioner Deb Schorr, who supported the sale and is excited about the manor's new look.

"I think it provides a quality of care for our residents," she said. "The enrichment activities, the computer center and Husker-themed room -- those are wonderful things that enrich the quality of residents lives." 

Tax dollars couldn't have covered them, she said. But the county did help pay for the remodeling, setting aside $1 million from the sale price. 

The county didn’t make much money when it sold the manor in 2009, says Larry Hudkins, the only commissioner who voted against the sale.

There's about $2.1 million left from the $9.5 million sale, after covering a bill from the state of more than $4.3 million, providing $1.45 million for employee benefit payouts and using some of the remaining cash to pay workers compensation bills. 

The $2.1 million has not yet been turned over to an endowment, as recommended by an advisory committee.

Hudkins still is frustrated by what he considers a $10 million giveaway: "Virtually, we got nothing for the manor," he said.

And he still is upset by the upheaval the sale caused for veteran county employees.

Altitude Health continues to purchase government-owned nursing homes in other states, sales that have been surrounded by similar controversy and concern over what will happen to employees and residents under private ownership.  

The Lancaster Manor's renovation is not over, Zimmerman says.

Phase 2 -- replacing hospital-style white and gray tones with a homey earth look in the other four living units -- is expected to begin next year.

Reach Nancy Hicks at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com.

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