April 1, 2010
by Eric Slack
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Bienvivir Senior Health Services is truly ahead of its time. While much of the senior care industry is just now working to help seniors stay in their homes as long as possible, Bienvivir has done it since opening its doors in 1988.
In 1986, the concept of building Bienvivir was born, the idea being to build a Pace (Program for All-Inclusive Care of the Elderly) program to serve residents of El Paso. After jumping through all the regulatory hoops and opening two years later, the company has continued to evolve ever since. It operates out of a 100,000-square-foot headquarters and has three facilities in all.
The organization’s three comprehensive day healthcare centers are strategically located to provide services to different parts of the city. The organization’s headquarters is large enough to operate two adult day-health facilities and has a three-level assisted living component specifically and exclusively dedicated to Alzheimer’s patients. CEO Rosemary Castillo said Bienvivir also just bought a new facility to serve as a support distribution center and warehouse for its transportation and home health component.
Reaching eligible participants
Bienvivir isn’t just for any elderly individual. The Pace care model is for seniors that are significantly compromised medically and at risk of being institutionalized. Eligible individuals must be 55 or older, reside within Bienvivir’s service area, and be certifiable for nursing home care.
Bienvivir Senior Health Services: Living Well“Anyone that applies for services from our system must be assessed. The evaluation goes to the state, and the state determines if they are certifiable for nursing home care,” Castillo said. “If they are, they are accepted, and then we do everything within our capabilities to keep them out of a nursing home.”
The key to the model is an interdisciplinary team of professional caregivers that evaluates the medical condition of each individual and makes determinations on how to serve them and keep them in the community for as long as possible. The team includes physicians, RNs, therapists, dieticians, social workers, behavioral health specialists, and end-of-life care providers. Services are coordinated and managed by the team, and individuals are continuously reassessed after the initial evaluation.
“Participants are routinely evaluated every six months. Until they exit the system, the team will follow them,” said Castillo. “The goal is to stabilize them medically and make sure the delivery system is comprehensive and well managed so acute episodes are minimized. Of all the people that come into our system, approximately 5% at any given time are confined to a nursing home.”
Bienvivir has an active outreach program that develops and distributes marketing materials throughout the community. In addition, the organization’s transportation fleet and the centers themselves draw a lot of attention to Bienvivir.
“We are constantly moving people back and forth from their homes to our centers, so the transportation program has become a great marketing tool. People see our branded vehicles regularly, and that attracts the attention of people looking for services like ours,” she said. “In addition, the centers themselves are very visible and located in elderly neighborhoods. People can come in any time, and we’ll give them tours and information on our programming.”
At the same time, Castillo said the most reliable outreach comes through its participants. “Because we serve so many people, caregivers and participants freely communicate information about us to friends and family,” she said. “However, some things we are doing this year, as part of strategic planning, are comprehensive community surveys and focus groups with providers and seniors to be sure everyone understands what the program is all and how comprehensive it is.”
Finding better ways
Not only are many participants referred to Bienvivir, many employees are, too. Castillo said the last few years have demonstrated that many people with a propensity to work with the elderly already have established relationships with someone who works with the company. Bienvivir works hard to be a good employer, providing flexible time-off benefits so people can feel comfortable dealing with personal issues without worrying about their jobs. The organization takes a paid time-off approach to vacation and sick leave, believing that showing loyalty to employees will be paid back by loyalty from employees.
Bienvivir recently created a scholarship program for employees who want to continue their education as well. Bienvivir will pay part of the cost, without forcing employees to commit to any obligation to pay the organization back. The company also pays for CEUs and ESL classes.
Now, the organization is allocating resources to improving facilities and capabilities. Technological investments are helping Bienvivir build the most efficient system possible so people can spend less time on documentation and more time on direct care. The organization developed electronic systems that allowed it to consolidate inventory and schedule transportation, and Castillo said Bienvivir is identifying available software packages to govern anything that can be electronically managed.
As for facilities, one is currently being renovated, and it will be a green building when finished. Bienvivir is looking to have the building reach gold or platinum LEED status through reduced energy usage and by using sustainable construction materials. In addition, the organization is creating spaces at all facilities that will reduce the propensity for staff isolation and provide opportunities for employees to coordinate with their colleagues. But no matter the direction Bienvivir’s investments take, the overarching goal of the organization will always stay the same.
“We have a vision for a better world for graying America, as well as for the people that work in this arena,” Castillo said. “There is always a better way of doing things, and seniors need to have their preferences considered. There should be respect for life at any age group; we take an altruistic approach toward caring for people.”