Benedictine Health Center to Build New Elder Care Facility

Duluth News Tribune
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Duluth, MN – Ground will be broken in late August or early September for an $11.2 million addition to the Benedictine Health Center in Duluth that also will introduce a new concept in elder care to the Northland.

Benedictine Health Center Small House
Benedictine Health Center Small House

The 48-unit “small house” is expected to open June 1, said Katie Redig, the health center’s administrator and CEO. National Bank of Commerce is providing the financing, and on Wednesday the Duluth Economic Development Authority approved a resolution clearing the way for tax-exempt financing.

The small house, which doesn’t yet have an official name, will provide a greater level of care than an assisted-living center but slightly less care than a nursing home, Redig said. More significantly, it will provide a setting that’s less like those institutions and more like home.

“Meals are chosen by residents like you do at your home,” said Dana Tchida, who directs Westwood at Benedictine Health Center. “It is much less structured than some of the current settings we have. Meals are rise-at-will. You can partake if you wish to. You can eat later if you want to. Grab a snack at midnight.”

The 48 units will be divided among four “houses,” each with 12 units, Redig and Tchida said. Each will combine private suites with common living space: a den, a dining area, an open kitchen and a sunroom. Licensed practical nurses will be on site 24 hours a day. But each of the houses will function separately from the others. Its residents — referred to as “elders” in small house parlance — will collectively choose their own course.

They’ll be contained in one building connected to the rest of the Benedictine Health Center campus, which is on the grounds of St. Scholastica Monastery off Kenwood Avenue. Each house will have its own entrance.

Any or all of the 12-unit houses will be able to offer memory care, Redig said. Cost will be between $6,000 and $8,000 per month, compared to between $3,000 and $6,000 for assisted living and between $6,000 and $14,000 for nursing home care, she said.

The development of the small house stems from the parent Benedictine Health System rethinking senior care, Redig said. That involved a team that visited various facilities across the country and, in 2008, inviting Dr. Bill Thomas to speak to the health system’s leaders.

Thomas, a geriatric specialist from New York, developed the concept of small houses, Redig said. He is the founder of the Green House Project, a Virginia-based nonprofit that certifies facilities meeting its small-house criterion as “Green Houses.”

Benedictine chose not to seek Green House certification but liked the concept, Redig said. The Duluth-based Catholic organization built a small house known as the “Garden House” in Winsted, Minn., she said. The one in Duluth will be its second.

The only Green House-certified homes in Minnesota or Wisconsin are at Lutheran Homes of Oshkosh, Wis., said Maura Porcelli, operations manager for The Green House Project, although several are under development.

Green House Project director David Farrell said there are successful long-term care innovations that don’t have the Green House label. But the small house idea works, he said.

“There’s research out there that says that human beings are hard-wired to live with others, but not 85 others, like in an institutional nursing home,” Farrell said. “And not even two others. And so when it comes to an environment where you need care, the research says somewhere between nine and 15.”

In the second phase of the project, the nursing home will be renovated and the number of beds reduced from 120 to 90, Redig said. When it’s all done, Benedictine Health Center will have added the equivalent of 16.6 full-time employees to its staff, she said.

Most of the displaced nursing home residents are expected to wind up in the small house, Redig said. Benedictine Health Center residents already have started expressing interest.

“It is a new model of care for our market, and we believe it’s going to be highly desirable,” Redig said.