Challenges facing Wichita long-term care facilities


WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Changes are coming to a large, local senior living facility.

KMH, formerly known as the Kansas Masonic Home, is closing its long-term care facility to focus on memory care, independent and assisted living.

According to the Sedgwick County Department of Aging, a recent survey of senior citizens in Sedgwick, Harvey, and Butler counties shows that most people want to remain in their homes. The shift to stay home is impacting some local long-term facilities. The administrator of Homestead Health Center said the closing of KMH’s long-term facility could be their saving grace.

“This was very much a blessing in disguise because this changes our whole purview of what the future is going to look like for Homestead,” said Elizabeth Howarth, administrator of Homestead Health Center.

She said that back in November of 2020, they lost 17 people to COVID.

“It was a war zone here. It was terrible,” Howarth said.

She said they have since struggled to fill their 62 beds.

“2021 started with many challenges,” she said. “We have been struggling financially trying to get census up again.”

Since having to lockdown, Howarth said people want to get closer to their loved ones.

“We did calls and stuff like that, but it is not the same as being able to come in and hold your mother’s hand and give your dad a kiss on the cheek,” she said.

Howarth said they hope to get about 12 residents from KMH, but they also need more staff.

“Our staff has been very gracious about working shorthanded, especially on weekends, but we don’t want that to go on forever and ever,” she said.

The shortage of nurses certified medical assistants (CMA), and certified nursing assistants (CNA) has impacted all levels of senior care.

“We are hearing that they are having staffing challenges, not only in nursing facilities but also home-health agencies,” said Monica Cissell, director of information and community services, Sedgwick County Department of Aging. “I think that’s partly due to COVID. It’s also due to the work, the difficulty of the work, and the rate of pay.”

Robert Miller, the vice president of company development for ComfortCare Homes, specializing in dementia care, said they have continued to be full of residents needing extra mental care.

“There is a huge demand,” he said. “We are seeing increases in the number of people diagnosed and the number of people dealing with dementia, which can be a lot more complex to manage even in a person’s own home.”

Miller said his company is in the process of building two more homes with dementia care, and those homes already have a waiting list.

“We are reaching a peak point where the baby boomers are now really the lion’s share for the services we need to provide for, and we know that that generation is three times larger than my generation,” he said.

Miller said the Wichita area needs more specialized care long-term facilities, and he is also struggling to find enough qualified staff.

“There is always hope that this need will be met,” Miller said. “We need to continue to encourage the younger generation to take on the health profession as a career. We need more CNAs and CMAs. They needed to be treated with respect as a profession.”

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