Staffing and Funding Trouble Close Another Nebraska Nursing Home
By Jackie Ourada , Morning Edition Host & Reporter Nebraska Public Media
April 12, 2022, 6 a.m. ·
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The Kensington nursing home is tucked into the heart of Beatrice where Highway 77 meets Highway 136 in town.
Emme Edeal worked at the facility for nine months before her shifts were cut a few weeks ago. Edeal said the Kensington's location spoke to how much the home was a staple in the small-knit community.
“People were able to just walk out and go down to the donut shop or to Troubles Popcorn and get a bag of popcorn and come back," Edeal said.
"One of our residents sometimes would walk down to Runza and get himself an ice cream cone and then walk back."
Staff and residents found out in February their facility would be closing in mid-April.
Edeal said the feeling of community flowed through their building. The residents and staff members would go to the Friday night football games together. They all participated in activities and outings together. When the holidays came, they were together.
“[The residents] went around and looked at Christmas lights a couple times. For Halloween they went out and passed around candy to the kids walking around. On Thanksgiving they do a huge meal,.” Edeal said.
The high school student, now former Kensington server, said everyone in the home was family.
That rang especially true for some residents and staff members – like Melva Thyfault, a medication aide at the home.
"My mother has stayed there after recouping from surgery and going to therapy. My husband [lived] there. My father in law – I brought him there after his stroke," Thyfault said.
So hearing the news of the Kensington closing was a gut-punch.
“We were called to a staff meeting," Thyfault said, choking through tears.
"And then I started seeing several of our corporate members. And I thought, ‘Wow, something must be changing.’”
The Kensington isn’t the only facility closing its doors this year. Homes in rural Mullen and Arapahoe also closed within the last few months – an ongoing result of slim staff numbers and dwindling finances.
Staff and residents spent years here together. The Kensington first opened in Beatrice in the 1980s. It hosted a 30-year anniversary party in 2019.
For Melva, it’s not just finding another facility for her husband to go to. It’s also about saying goodbye to friends she saw everyday.
"Once in awhile in the afternoon, when it got kind of quiet, it hit us a little bit," Thyfault said.
"We tried not to think about how stressful it was, but it creeps up on you. It just kind of hit us, that the people you’ve always taken a break with or waved at in the office – you won’t be that casual anymore.”
The nursing home was owned and operated by Agemark, a senior living company with facilities across Nebraska and the country.
Ashley Gloystein-Klatt, a spokesperson for Agemark, said the expenses, such as food, staffing pay, insurance and utility costs kept adding up.
"It's a heartbreaking decision, and we're truly, truly sorry to have to make the decision. It's not something we wanted to do," Gloystein-Klatt said.
She said it was especially hard to make ends meet in a smaller town like Beatrice.
"The biggest rise in cost has been staffing costs. We have raised our wages, because it's been really a lot more difficult to find employees to work in our community versus a smaller area," Gloystein-Klatt said.
"The population isn't as big as Lincoln or Omaha, where maybe there's a bigger pool of applicants."
Agemark helped place its 43 residents within a few weeks after it announced the closure. The company helped Melva secure a job at a nursing home in Fairbury, a neighboring town where she and her husband have family.
It made for one silver lining in a situation Melva never thought she and her husband would have to face.
"There were a few of us that – we joked about what room was our favorite that we were going to pick when we came back," Thyfault said.
Melva and Emme said they’ll keep their memories made at the Kensington forever – as well as the friendships they’ve formed.
"We've said lots of 'I love you's,' and I've gotten lots of residents' room numbers, so I can go visit them. But it's been really hard," Edeal said.
"Sometimes, God closes a door for another one to open," Thyfault said.
The Kensington’s last day of operations is scheduled for April 15.
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