Aberdeen nursing home evolves through 50 years

Residents, staff and visitors socialize over refreshments at Bethesda Aberdeen's 50th anniversary party at Bethesda Home Dec. 26, 2019, at Bethesda Home in Aberdeen. (John Davis/Aberdeen American News via AP)

ABERDEEN (AP) – On Dec. 26, 1969, a new nursing home opened in Aberdeen.

It was one of many opening up at this time, as changes were coming to the way Americans cared for their elders, aided by the social programs passed as part of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty.

But Bethesda was a little different – and still is. It's a not-for-profit center sponsored by 12 area Lutheran churches that have been there from the beginning.

"We're not tied to a health care system," said Scott Eisenbiesz, administrator at Bethesda. "There's no parent company. Bethesda Home of Aberdeen Incorporated is the corporation from that perspective."

There's a nine-member board with representatives from the 12 churches, he told the Aberdeen American News.

As elder care has evolved, so has Bethesda – adding independent- and assisted-living options on its 22 acres on the south side of Aberdeen, Eisenbiesz said. Newer services support aging in place – wanting to stay at home for as long as possible.

"Originally, how long-term care started out, it was really that rest home concept," he said. "People didn't have a place to go, so they needed a place to stay. It wasn't always geared toward illness or anything like that."

One of the big changes that makes Bethesda different is that it added daycare and preschool in 1985. At first it was just for employees, Eisenbiesz said, but it has since expanded.

"The residents love that," he said. "They do a lot of – probably a couple times a month, different activities together."

Parkside Retirement Community was built as an independent-living facility in the early 1990s, and Bethesda Towne Square was the assisted-living facility constructed a few years later.

"Now the nursing home as evolved into more of the rehab stay, more of the higher care where people really can't take care of themselves any more," Eisenbiesz said. "A lot of people don't realize that we have the rehab component here. We have on-site therapists, we provide a lot rehab to home or maybe even rehab back to Towne Square or to Parkside."

When Bethesda first opened, most of Aberdeen's south side was open. Eisenbiesz said he grew up just down the street from the campus in a house that was built in 1970. He did an internship at Bethesda in the mid 1990s.

Because of the large plot of land, Bethesda has been able to expand and make everything is interconnected, so residents don't have to brave the elements to get to different parts of the campus.

"As people move through our campus, as their friends maybe go from Parkside to assisted living, they can walk over and see them, they don't have to go outside," he said.

"Some of our residents, it started with (K.O. Lee) Adult Day (Health Center)," Eisenbiesz said. "As we see people changing in their status, we can start working on a plan."

The different levels of offering – skilled nursing, assisted living and independent living – might not have been the original vision for the campus, but it's evolved well, he said.

As geriatric care evolves, Eisenbiesz said he sees a need for services that keep people in their homes being the biggest need.

"How do you make it affordable and how do you look at ways of enhancing services without having to break the bank?" Eisenbiesz said.

Making sure people socialize if they do decide to age in place will be a big challenge, he said.

"It's amazing how we see people almost blossom when they enter back in because they have that structure and how much better they do with companionship," Eisenbiesz said.

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