By Diana McFarland, News editor, Smithfield Times

Riverside Convalescent Center and Magnolia Manor in Smithfield are undergoing a transformation in nursing home care.

It's called the "household" model, and allows residents more choice and autonomy than the traditional style of care, said Mary Martha Stewart, director of culture change and clearpath with Riverside.

The two facilities, which are still open, are undergoing a $7 million renovation that will add a north and south wing to the existing Magnolia Manor building. Eventually, the existing convalescent center building will be torn down.

The new facility will include 34 private rooms for long and short-term care, as well as 12 additional assisted living units —or "households, along with the existing memory unit.

Construction is expected to be completed this fall, said Ruth Deibler, project manager for Riverside Health System.

The units, now called "households" are for private pay residents, as well as those on Medicare or insurance. As reported in The Smithfield Times last year, Medicaid patients in Riverside Convalescent Center are being placed in other facilities as the Smithfield center no longer accepts those patients.

The facility isn't expected to experience a fee change related to the renovation, said Stacey Knox, executive administrator of the Riverside Smithfield campus.

One feature of the new "household" model, which is currently in practice at Riverside's Heron Cove at Sanders in Gloucester, is that patients will have more control of day-to-day decisions, such as when they wake up, take their medication and when they have meals, if desired, Stewart said.

With the traditional model, patients are awakened and fed at the same time, despite personal preferences, Stewart said.

The new "household" concept "gives residents the feeling of home," she said, adding that residents can even have their favorite flavor of ice cream or salad dressing kept on hand in the "household" style kitchen.

Staff will be crosstrained in multiple areas to better facilitate more individualized schedules and regrouped into teams that will serve a smaller group of people. "Homemakers" will be employed to do the cooking and cleaning in the kitchen, although residents will have the opportunity to engage in cooking activities while supported by staff.

"This model is all about relationships," Stewart said.

In addition to the new "household" kitchen, the new facility will include two new courtyards, increased walking areas and a screened-in porch and spa on the north wing. The facility will have a communal living area on the north and south wings and staff will be encouraged to eat with residents.

The new facility will also be quieter, with no overhead paging or alarms going off.

"It doesn't sound like a hospital," Stewart said.

Riverside plans to begin a marketing campaign in February to alert the community about the changes at Magnolia Manor and the convalescent center.

"We want to rebuild that trust with the community," said Caitlyn Worner, director of marketing with Riverside. "This is the future," said Worner of the new "household" model.

As for Medicaid patients, Worner said the government is stepping up more to serve those individuals, such as Commonwealth Coordinated Care.

Beginning last year, Virginians eligible for Medicare and Medicaid could enroll in the program, which uses three health care plans, as well as local in-home care companies to provide services, such as daily living support and preventative care in the home.

Many residents and family members were initially shocked and angry last year when Riverside announced it would no longer take Medicaid patients at the convalescent center.

Riverside cited an aging building that was more expensive to repair than replace, Virginia's refusal to expand Medicaid coverage and Smithfield's aging population as reasons for the change. Another trend nationwide is to reduce the number of nursing home beds.

Knox said many Medicaid residents have been placed in other facilities, but some remain. The staff is working with those individuals to find a new placement by the end of September, Knox said.

Knox anticipates a waiting list for long-term care patients once the new facility opens, as it is now near capacity.

"We want to remain invested in the Smithfield community," she said.

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Published: February 15, 2015