Larksfield Place: Valerie McGhee, CEO

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The average age of a resident of Larksfield Place, in Wichita, Kansas, is currently 82. The not-for-profit organization is a continuing care retirement community in the heart of the Central Plains. The community has about 300 residents living in 22 free-standing villa homes, 170 independent living apartment homes, and 90 licensed beds in an on-campus nursing home. They are in the process of constructing 40 additional assisted living units and 32 memory care units, with the help of GLMV Architects, a local firm that specializes in the field of aging with their building designs and construction.

Larksfield Place enjoys the benefits of nationwide connection through membership in the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (AAHSA), an organization that advocates for older adults and keeps tabs on legislative movements that will affect them. “Things have changed dramatically in the whole industry of retirement living,” says Valerie McGhee, CEO since 2004. “AAHSA are the people who keep their finger on the pulse for us.”

A Community of Family

From the residents living independently in villas to those needing more hands-on, specialized care services, Larksfield thinks in terms of enriching lives and creating community.

“We are here to serve our residents, number one, and we are also here to serve our staff. They are the backbone of our organization. When we conduct surveys, they show that the residents care more than anything about the staff, because the staff is like family. Some of them see the staff here more frequently than they do their own children. We operate in such a way that people feel valued and respected, regardless of the position that they are in. We don’t treat people who work in the laundry any differently than the administrators,” says McGhee.

At the same time, the level of expertise for staff members is rising. First, people are coming out of hospitals needing more care than in past decades. The goal is to move them back into their homes to heal and recover rather than pay for long and lengthy hospital stays. Therefore, Larksfield has to maintain a nursing staff capable of caring for more serious healthcare needs. As well, there is a greater focus on wellness today in retirement communities. “We have people who are 100 years old who actually exercise three and four times a week. We have a lot more people who exercise on a regular basis and they are living longer and they are living healthier,” says McGhee.

Challenges in Retirement Living Services

“There are always challenges in funding,” says McGhee. “We’re mission based. We’re not-for-profit. We still take care of people even when they’ve outlived their resources.”

Another concern for McGhee is recruiting and maintaining qualified staff. “Fewer and fewer people are getting into this field,” she says. “Hiring nurses is very challenging because they can usually make more money in the boutique hospitals than in long term care.”

“Even in my role as CEO, there aren’t as many people getting into the field because there are so many regulatory issues. We’re more highly regulated than a nuclear power plant. A lot of people are looking at the regulatory side of running retirement communities, because of the nursing home, and saying, ‘I’m not getting into this.’ There is not enough leadership, not as many administrators. We’re often challenged with staffing.”

Future Services for Independent Seniors

The organization looks for ways to enhance the lives of those living independently and assist them with those goals for as long as possible. “Maybe it’s a husband and wife and one of them is showing some sign of illness or dementia. We’re working on home-based technology programs where we can help people stay in their homes longer. It would be another financial stream for us,” says McGhee

Another consideration is technology that monitors medication dispensation. As well, they are looking at programs that study movement patterns in a home and sound an alert for assistance when, for instance, a stove is left on too long or a person’s movements are really out of kilter with what is to be expected.

“There is no sense competing with someone wanting to stay at home because we want people to stay at home. We want them to move to us when they really need us and not before they do,” says McGhee.

“We all better be ready for the next generation of older adults,” says McGhee. “We’ve all known that we are going to have this graying tsunami and we really will in the next 25-30 years. I think the opportunity for innovation is huge in the next 10 years when it comes to older adults. What baby boomers will want when they triple the population of older adults is vastly different than what the World War II generation wanted. I think it’s important that all of us in health care stay ahead of the game. We need to listen to our constituents when it comes to older adults, to listen to some of the changes, and be able to deliver programs and services for that population.”

-by T.M. Simmons

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