Peabody Place, a freshly renovated assisted living facility in Franklin, could easily be mistaken for a luxury hotel.
The three-story building features a granite and brick façade, large manor windows and a view of the Winnipesauke River. But Howie Chandler, the facility’s executive director, is more excited by what the new building represents: a new long-term care model.
He said as residents move from the original, 80-year-old facility to the new building in April, Peabody Place’s care staff will shift away from doting on healthcare needs and focus on providing a meaningful, even fun, lifestyle.
“People don’t usually think of long-term care and fun but that’s really our goal,” he said.
Residents will enjoy private rooms and en-suite bathrooms, which Chandler said are essential for maintaining dignity.
The facility has also made small changes to floor plans to give residents as much control as possible over their lives. Even though all meals are cooked and served by the facility, each room is outfitted with a refrigerator, so residents have control over when and what they eat.
“It doesn’t sound like much but control is so, so important,” he said.
Residents will also have the opportunity to help out around the facility, whether it be cooking, cleaning or organizing events. Even though it’s often easier for staff to quickly complete these tasks on their own, he said the opportunity to help gives meaning to a resident’s daily schedule, one of the most important indicators of longevity, he said.
Construction of the new 63,632 square foot facility is funded by the U.S Department of Agricultural’s Rural Development Fund. Once completed, Peabody Place will more than double capacity and will include 45 assisted living apartments, 13 memory care apartments and 16 independent living apartments.
Amenities include common space for gathering on all floors, a 24-hour emergency response system, memory care services, personal transportation services, a beauty and barbershop, an exercise and wellness room and easy access to downtown Franklin.
The renovation is a spot of good news in a difficult time for long-term care facilities. Assisted living facilities have struggled over the last two years with COVID-19 outbreaks and dire staffing shortages.
On average, New Hampshire nursing homes have only about three-fourths of their available beds filled with residents, Williams said. This is not because people don’t need long-term care but because the facilities can’t find licensed workers to staff many of their beds, taking a large portion of their spots offline.
Shortages of staff in nursing homes have long been a problem in New Hampshire. Low Medicaid reimbursement rates in the state make it difficult for facilities to keep their salaries competitive.
Between March 2020 and Dec. 2021, 4,425 nursing assistants allowed their licenses to lapse while only 4,003 new licenses were issued, ultimately creating a loss of 422 LNAs, according to data from the NH Commission on Aging.
“We just can’t grow this front-line workforce fast enough,” Williams said
Williams said nursing homes and hospitals — desperate from a shortage of licensed nurses — all clamor for the same few medical staff who parachute in from faraway states to fill empty shifts.
Each interested party drives the agency’s asking prices higher and higher until the nurses’ hourly rates are triple or quadruple what a facility would pay their regular staff.
In order to maintain federally required staff-to-resident ratios, nursing homes often rely on temporary nurses to fill their shifts. Advocates say staffing agencies have seized on a moment of desperation and raised prices exponentially over the last several months. Facilities are forced to pay hefty prices, even if that means they can no longer afford to care for as many residents.
“Hospitals and nursing homes alike are held hostage by staffing agencies,” Williams said. “You might as well just hand over a blank check if you want to get an RN.”