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Birchwood, Lutheran Life Villages to merge June 1

Partnership will improve both organizations, leaders say

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 - 3:03 pm

Creating a partnership intended to build on the unique strengths of each organization, Lutheran Life Villages will merge with Birchwood, a day care center for people with dementia, effective June 1.

For Lutheran Life Villages, established in 1931 and formerly known as the “Lutheran Home,” the consolidation will “fill a gap in our service continuum,” said President and CEO Alex Kiefer, whose organization has long been known for nursing home and assisted-living care and for the past several years has also offered treatment for residents with memory-care needs at its main campus on South Anthony Boulevard. Adding what will become known as the “Village at Birchwood,” he said, “fills a gap between in-home services offered by our Homecare division and (our) residential-based services.”

Jill Nichols, a member of Birchwood’s board of directors, became one of those caregivers when her late mother was diagnosed with dementia. For Birchwood, she said, the merger will provide access to Lutheran Life’s expertise in marketing, administration and programming, and will make a broader array of services available to Birchwood patients and their families.

The seeds of the partnership were planted some weeks ago when Nichols asked Lutheran Life to begin to provide nursing services at Birchwood. Gradually, the two organizations realized each could make the other better.

“(Our partner) needed to be a not-for-profit (as Birchwood is), and being faith-based was also important,” she said.

The partnership with Birchwood’s year-old facility at 8151 Glencarin Blvd. also provides Lutheran Life with the potential for growth. With a facility in Kendallville, the organization has long wanted to geographically diversify its Fort Wayne operations, and opened a nursing and rehabilitation center at 9802 Coldwater Road about three years ago. The homey 10,000-square-foot Birchwood facility has room to grow, and although there are no plans to do so, Kiefer said he “wouldn’t rule it out” in the future.

Birchwood was founded 12 years ago on the former YWCA campus on Wells Street before moving later to the Ash Centre on Freeman Street and then into its current $2 million facility that was designed and funded in part by the Vera Bradley Foundation, Vera Bradley co-founder Barb Baekgaard and Nichols, a former Vera Bradley executive. Nichols’ husband, John, was also instrumental in the project and volunteered to oversee construction. Other foundations, organizations and individuals also contributed.

“We want to be sensitive to the people who donated to Birchwood while being a resource to families.”

Clients at Birchwood can participate in a variety of activities, such as singing, exercise and crafts, and the facility also has limited overnight capacity.

An estimated one in eight Americans over 65 has Alzheimer’s and the number is expected to grow as baby boomers age.

“We can’t stop dementia,” Nichols said. “But we can make a huge difference in peoples’ quality of life.”