By Laura Belgrave
Special to BocaNewsNow.com
In an ideal world, home healthcare agencies alone would be able to fill all the requirements of people reluctant to enter skilled nursing homes or place their parents in one. But because of an aging baby boomer population, the landscape has dramatically shifted in the last six or seven years.
Today, not only are boomers seeking quality nursing homes for their parents, but they’re also increasingly electing short-term rehabilitation at nursing facilities for themselves to get back on their feet after elective procedures such as back surgery, or hip or knee replacements.
Those boomers — part of the post-World War II generation born between 1946 and 1964 and 25 percent of today’s population— aren’t content to wait for what they want. In fact, their needs for specialized care are driving a major expansion at Regents Park of Boca Raton, a 180-bed skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility, even though Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement reductions in 2011 forced cutbacks at many nursing homes.
“Two trends are at play here,” said Leslie Curtis, business development director at Regents Park Boca. “First, boomers often don’t even live in the same state as their parents, who typically have multiple and serious medical conditions. They recognize their parents need full-time care, and so they explore nursing homes because of the 24/7 care available.”
Curtis said that the company’s own statistics show that indeed, although Boca Raton and nearby cities bring in most patients, the fifth-leading demographic group researching Regents Park of Boca Raton is from the state of New York.
That demographic, Curtis says, reflects the second and hottest trend. “Today, it’s not just about boomers looking for a place for their parents. Because boomers themselves are living longer and staying a lot more active than their parents’ generation, they’re looking for a place that will allow them to expedite their own therapy so they can get back on the golf course, tennis court or pick up as best they can where they left off. New Yorkers are starting to schedule surgeries to take place here during the snowbird season, and so they’re doing their homework on short-term rehab.”
Curtis, who began her own career as a nurse and has worked for more than 20 years in the skilled nursing and rehabilitation field, noted that according to the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the number of people under 65 just getting knee replacements tripled between 1997 and 2009 alone.
“Home healthcare companies clearly have their place,” said Curtis, “but they typically can’t provide five, six or even seven days of specialized therapy, never mind the nursing care older boomers frequently need for their own medical needs unrelated to a specific elective surgery.”
To accommodate the burgeoning boomer needs, the expansion at Regents Park Boca Raton includes the addition of 20 beds for short-term rehab patients, a second therapy gym, and a shift to around-the-clock respiratory therapy care. Because boomers are generally savvy with mobile devices, the facility has even added a free app for iPhones and Androids so that family members and friends can more readily keep up with happenings at Regents.
“Going into a nursing home isn’t an easy choice, whether it’s for yourself or your parents,” said Curtis. “Boomers have to juggle a lot of factors.”
Curtis conducts tours of Regents Park Boca on a daily basis and talks at length with potential patients. “If they’re coming for a planned event for themselves, like a total hip replacement or back surgery, they want to know exactly what the place they’re going to for rehab will be doing for them. They’ve already met with the surgeon, so they tour and make sure they’ll have a bed when they’re ready to leave the hospital. Generally, those short-term patients are here for only 21-24 days.”
As for the boomers seeking a place for a loved one, it’s often because that person wound up in a hospital unexpectedly and can’t go directly home. Those loved ones, generally aging parents, likely suffered a major functional decline. Curtis said physicians themselves frequently refer children of elderly patients to Regents because the doctors recognize their patients can’t be safe at home.
“We know people still have fears about nursing homes,” said Curtis. “But particularly in the last decade, improvements have been dramatic.”
The American Health Care Association’s September 2013 overview of nursing facility characteristics shows that between 2003 and 2013, a steady increase in the number of nursing staff to patients has occurred to boost quality standards. That data is based on research conducted by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“We’ve certainly increased nursing staff over the years, in large measure because of the influx of baby boomers and their interest in short-term rehab,” said Curtis. “More nursing staff is critical because the boomers are coming in directly from surgeries, and hospitals don’t keep people long these days. For that reason, at least initially, our short-term rehab patients actually might require more intensive care than long-term residents. We have to be there for them. We have to meet their needs.”