March 2011

NHC

Author: David Tobias | Photographer: John Brackett

This is Your Grandfather’s Health Care

Growing old is not for wussies.

For those of you in your 20s or 30s, this is a refrain you’ve probably heard from Mom and Dad or from cranky old grumpsters like Grammy or Gramps, and you think it has nothing whatsoever to do with you.

Ahhh, but it does, because this getting old thing is a one-way street, and we’re all heading down it. Whether you feel all light, airy and bulletproof, or whether you just got that slight crick in your neck and wonder, hmmm, is this what old feels like, it’s all, unfortunately, just a matter of time.

For those already there, or dealing with friends and family who are knocking on the door, it’s nice to know there are resources to provide quality care and guide you through the maze of weirdness when a decline in health must be acknowledged. One of those resources is National Health Care of Bluffton.

National Health Care (NHC) is a company providing rehabilitation services, both in-patient and out-patient, with skilled nursing care around the clock. It is not related to national health reform—although it may be affected by it. It is by no means a socialized medicine think tank, and it’s not to be confused with its neighbor, Care Core, located just around the corner on Bluffton Parkway.

NHC is a publicly traded, long-term health care company (with short-term care capabilities), which has been operating in South Carolina since the early ’70s, with 13 facilities in the state and more than 75 across the country, mostly in the Southeast.
The Bluffton facility just opened last January, with 80 beds and zero patients. It now serves 78 patients and opened a brand new 40-bed wing on February 2. Even the devil-may-care youth of America can read that trend line: It’s dramatic and up.

It reflects a regional demographic. The existence of large concentrations of retirees in the Hilton Head Island, Bluffton, Beaufort County and Savannah area was definitely a factor in the decision to open the facility here, and it’s the reason there’s room for growth, including perhaps a fourth wing of 40 more beds and possibly an assisted care facility on the 20-acre campus.

Wade Taylor seems young to be the administrator of this 120-bed, brand-spanking new long-term health care facility with 130 employees, but at 35 he says he’s about average. He is a licensed nursing home administrator and holds a master’s degree in health administration from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He speaks in a thoughtful, measured way, weighing his words, seeming to consider the gravity of each, in describing how long-term care differs from assisted living or independent living.

“We have nurses and certified nursing assistants; we help patients with whatever care needs they have on a daily basis,” Taylor said. “Some say we need to attend to them as patients and some say they’re residents because we want this to be a home-like setting. We’ve said we’re going to do both. What differentiates us is that we’re making sure they’re getting good quality health care instead of just making sure they feel at home.”

That’s an important distinction because it helps define the kinds of patients NHC serves. Assisted living, according to Taylor, is when you’re still well enough to do most things by yourself. In the NHC setting, most patients need more health care or assistance than assisted living can provide. That would include activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing, grooming and mobility. NHC is set up to help with all of those, and nurses at NHC can manage medications and in some instances even feed the patients.

NHC is also in the middle between assisted living and hospital care, owing mostly to the increased complexity of outpatient care that has occurred in the last 10-15 years.
Costs have become complex too. According to Taylor, 10 years ago, if you were over 65, you had Medicare Part A and that was pretty easy to understand. But nuances, along with changes in coverage, have made his job as administrator akin to that of a translator in the diplomatic foreign service.

“It’s a touchy subject, because family members are under a lot of stress,” Taylor said. “You might hear somebody tell you that your loved one may qualify for 100 days of Medicare coverage. What sticks in your head is 100 days, but it’s more complex than that. It’s our obligation to explain that Medicare has guidelines and goals, and while there may be Medicare with an insurance supplement, continued coverage is governed by the patient’s ability to meet those goals and progress with their therapy. That’s sometimes where things get sticky.

“The best tool that’s out there is to look at options for long-term insurance and that’s also a difficult discussion,” he said.

One of the more unique specialties at NHC is a “memory unit”—the only unit of its type in this part of the state. While some assisted living facilities may have a memory component, this unit comes with skilled nursing care and involves a balance of routine and flexibility. The emphasis is on providing a familiar environment for patients with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, but enough flexibility to allow for a home-like approach.

Memory care coordinator Stacy Floyd says that depending on a patient’s interests, this might mean offering activities focused on multi-sensory stimulation, including music therapy, pet therapy, visits to the facility’s courtyard on a nice day, reminiscing, baking, nail care and hand massage, brain games, exercise and more. Or giving someone who was a homemaker and seeks comfort in repetitive motions an activity like folding and sorting clothing, which resembles activities they may have enjoyed doing at home.

NHC works with doctors in Beaufort County and Savannah to provide rehab services for patients who need short-term help in negotiating what Taylor calls a health care “U-turn” on that one-way street—recovering from various kinds of surgeries and getting back to life in the community.

“All in all, it’s uplifting to see lives that people have lived and listen to what they have to say,” Taylor said. “I think about my marriage and my family and how I’m living and try to take in some of that wisdom in planning what I do over the next couple of decades. Sometimes those little nuggets just make you smile.”

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For more information on NHC in Bluffton, visit www.nhcbluffton.com or call 843.705.8220.

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