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Western Pa. senior-care providers shift focus of service

| Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012, 4:22 p.m.

The largest nonprofit provider of senior-living services in Western Pennsylvania plans to focus more on short-term nursing care and services in home- and community-based settings, and less on long-term, institutionalized care for residents after experiencing several years of deficits among some of its entities, an official said.

“I think it's really looking at how we can maximize the quality of quality of life and provide quality care in the most cost-effective manner,” said Paul Winkler, president and chief executive officer of Presbyterian SeniorCare in Oakmont.

Presbyterian is one of many providers of senior services statewide that are being challenged by more low-income seniors qualifying for government-funded Medicaid coverage, which is insufficient to cover the cost for nursing care, and an increase in the need for free personal care, experts said.

Founded in 1928, Presbyterian SeniorCare and its affiliates offer a range of services, including personal care, skilled nursing and independent living, to about 6,000 seniors in 10 counties.

Its personal-care division had a $217,002 deficit in 2009 and a $821,509 deficit in 2010. In 2011, operating revenues improved to show a $84,706 balance, according to tax returns.

Winkler attributes some of the losses to a 5 percentage point increase in the amount of its Westminster Place residents in Oakmont needing free personal care — assistance in completing daily tasks.

“We have never asked anyone to leave because of inability to pay, and so as the economy had a downturn, many of the folks who've come in have less to work with financially,” he said.

Winkler also cited decreased occupancy in its independent-living facility. Prospective residents couldn't sell their homes to pay for the services, and people are moving into the facilities at older ages, when their health care issues are more acute.

In response, Presbyterian is undertaking renovations, including at Westminster Place, where it is adding on-site medical offices for UPMC St. Margaret doctors and establishing larger rooms by reducing its number of personal-care beds from 120 to 89 by spring, Winkler said.

It is also developing a short-term rehabilitation unit on one floor at The Willows in Oakmont, which offers short- and long-term skilled nursing care.

A Mt. Lebanon-based senior-living care provider, United Methodist Services for the Aging also has experienced some financial challenges.

Through its five nonprofit entities that are referred to collectively as Asbury Heights, United Methodist offers services including independent living, nursing care and personal care to about 420 senior citizens, and fundraises.

Collectively, UMS and its affiliates had a 2011 net deficit of $1.2 million, compared with a deficit of $3 million in 2010, said Daniel Wolf, chief financial officer.

Founded in 1908, United Methodist has been affected by the downturn in the economy like many other organizations, but overall, it is doing fine, he said.

The nonprofit has responded with operational changes, including modifying its price structure to include additional services, making staffing shift changes to cut overtime costs and aggressively negotiating the costs of contracted services, he said.

It plans to expand its short-term rehabilitation services, which have better Medicare and health maintenance organization, or HMO, reimbursement rates, Wolf said.

The Allegheny County Industrial Development Authority recently approved United Methodist Services' application to have the authority issue up to $38 million in tax-exempt, low-interest bonds on behalf of UMS to refinance bond debt.

The refinancing is not spurred by financial problems, but the nonprofit's plan to replace its variable bond costs with stable, lower payments, Wolf said.

Tory N. Parrish is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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