LAKE PLACID - Change is coming to the Uihlein Living Center campus, and the nursing home has a new administrator who'll play a key role in that transition.
Marc Walker has been hired as Adirondack Health's chief senior services officer. It's a new position with a broad title that reflects the organization's two-year plan, announced in June, to offer assisted living and senior housing on the 13-acre Uihlein property while reducing the number of long-term-care beds at the nursing home. Adirondack Health also plans to close its hospital on Church Street and relocate it to the Uihlein campus, where a new medical fitness center would also be built.
Walker, a licensed nursing home administrator, said Adirondack Health's new vision for senior services is what caught his attention when he applied for the job.
Mark Walker, Adirondack Health’s new chief senior services officer, talks with Uihlein Living Center resident Peggy Forkey at the Lake Placid nursing home last week.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
"I really felt compelled and interested due to the fact of the vision for the campus at Uihlein," he said. "Turning it more into a health campus to serve the needs of the community, and focusing a lot more of what the needs of the elderly are going to be - that's what attracted me to this opportunity."
A native of Buffalo, Walker has 15 years of experience in the health care field. He's worked as an administrator in nursing homes ranging in size from 37 to 320 beds, including some that offer the same range of services that Adirondack Health is working to create at Uihlein.
"I worked at a campus that is 130 acres with 20 different buildings in Buffalo, the Weinberg Campus, where they have really framed out what health care needs to be for long-term care," Walker said. "They have patio homes. They have independent living. They have assisted living. They have a nursing home. They have a lot of different programs that the community takes advantage of."
Walker is the administrator for the Uihlein building, and he also oversees the administrator at Adirondack Health's other nursing home, Mercy Living Center in Tupper Lake. He said his primary goals are to ensure that clinical outcomes are high, that residents of both facilities are getting the care they deserve and that the nursing homes' staff is properly trained and competent.
Walker's other major goal, he said, is to bring services to the Uihlein campus that will create what he described as a one-stop shop.
"If I'm a resident, I can go to rehab, assisted living, the orthopedic practice, the ER that's possibly coming over from Lake Placid hospital," he said. "I could get in my golf cart and go from assisted living to the wine bar to McDonald's, all in my building. That's my ultimate vision - kind of like a Disneyland on the Uihlein Living campus."
The biggest challenge Walker said he faces is getting the residents, their families and the nursing home's employees to embrace the upcoming change at Uihlein. He said some people are a little skeptical about things to come, but Walker said he and others will be working to gain their trust and understanding.
Adirondack Health officials have said the transition from long-term, nursing home care toward assisted living, where seniors would live in their own apartments but receive some medical and clinical services, is based on community need. A focus group the hospital convened identified assisted living and senior housing as needed services in the Tri-Lakes area.
The shift is also based on the financial struggles the organization has faced at its two nursing homes. Adirondack Health experienced a $1.6 million shortfall last year, $1 million of which was attributed to a shortfall in Medicaid reimbursements. It costs about $220 per patient per day to provide long-term care at Uihlein, but Adirondack Health is only reimbursed $155 per patient, per day.
Within the greater Lake Placid community, Walker said there's some misinformation circulating that the nursing home will close. That isn't the case, he said. Adirondack Health has stopped accepting new long-term-care admissions as part of its plan to reduce the number of nursing home beds at Uihlein to 60. As of last week, it had 112 residents, a significant number of whom could "thrive" in assisted living, Walker said.
"With the vision of the campus converting services, we'll still meet the demand of what the population is saying that we need, but it's not going to be 156 beds," he said. "It's going to be 60 with different programs that allow seniors to remain in their home, on assisted living or somewhere in the community versus living in a nursing home bed."
Walker said the nursing home will slowly get down to 60 beds through attrition, by not filling beds after someone is discharged or dies.
Asked how that reduction in beds will impact staffing, Walker said he believes many of Uihlein's current employees will be able to transition to new jobs created by the creation of assisted living and other services on the campus.
Adirondack Health spokesman Joe Riccio said the organization still has a lot of work to do as it implements its plan for the Uihlein campus over the next two years. It has met with two potential partner organizations that would help create assisted living and senior housing on the property. It will also need to get all the necessary approvals from the state Department of Health, he said.
"On a scale of one to 10, we're at a five or six," Walker said. "We have the architectural renderings, we have the discussion that's ensued with our board, and we have our implementation plans devised. It's a large investment. This is millions (of dollars) we're looking to invest in the campus and the community to ensure that what we do is right for the future."
Walker recently bought a house on Lower Saranac Lake, near Trudeau Institute, where he lives with his golden retriever, Peyton. Walker said he's an avid cross-country skier and snowboarder, and he also enjoys entertaining and travel.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.