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Bethesda's new Welcome Center offers 'one-stop shop' for senior services info

Kris Johnson, left, and Becki Kallevig are the admission coordinators who staff the new Welcome Center at Bethesda Health and Housing. The Welcome Center was launched two months ago to create a smoother process for handling referrals and helping families find services that meet their needs. (Tribune photo by Anne Polta)

WILLMAR -- Until a few months ago, families who wanted information about Bethesda Health and Housing Services weren't always sure where to go.

The new Welcome Center makes it easier by giving them a central place to start, says Michelle Haefner, chief operating officer of Bethesda.

"As our campus continues to grow and we're adding more services, we wanted to make a more seamless process," she said. "Instead of having people call the different entities, we now have the Welcome Center where we can answer all their questions. We call it our one-stop shop."

Becki Kallevig and Kris Johnson have been working together as the Welcome Center staff for only a couple of months, but they said it's already clear the service has been helpful for families.

"I think they really appreciate having it," Kallevig said. "We've been busy. It's been good."

As one of the region's largest providers of services for older adults, Bethesda Health and Housing encompasses two skilled nursing facilities in Willmar, five independent and assisted living facilities, including an assisted living facility in Olivia, and a home health service and adult day services. All told, its capacity is close to 400 beds.

This diversity can help families find a better fit for what they need, but it can also be confusing for people, especially if they're confronting it for the first time, Kallevig and Johnson said.

There are usually a lot of questions: What's the difference between independent living and assisted living? How do you know when someone needs memory care? And what is it all going to cost?

In many cases, families are under pressure to make decisions, Kallevig said. "A lot of times it's a crisis. They need mom or dad or their loved one in yesterday."

Kallevig brings a background in registered nursing, having previously worked with admissions at Bethesda Heritage Center. Johnson is a social worker who has been with Bethesda for the past eight years.

Haefner said the idea of creating a Welcome Center came out of a strategic planning process that identified the service as a need.

Staff researched other facilities that had a similar service and ended up crafting a version that borrows some of the best features but also is unique to Bethesda.

One of the goals, Haefner said, was to increase efficiency and reduce duplication of staff time and resources. Not only did Bethesda develop its Welcome Center without needing to add new staff, but it also was able to locate Johnson and Kallevig -- their job title is now "admission coordinator" -- in the same office, a move that has improved communication and coordination.

"We know what the needs are. Between the two of us we can do a pretty good job," Johnson said.

So far, the majority of referrals are coming from hospital social workers looking for short-term and rehabilitation placements. Johnson and Kallevig have responded to inquiries from hospitals as far away as Alexandria and Rochester. They've also dealt with many families, providing information and fielding questions. On one recent day, for instance, Johnson had an appointment to meet with a family so that they could tour Bethesda's Sunrise assisted living facility.

With a newly acquired software program, they plan to track where their inquiries are coming from. "I think that's an important component, to know where we're getting referrals," Johnson said.

There will be times when someone needs services that cannot be provided at Bethesda, Haefner said. If that happens, the Welcome Center staff will work to connect those families with other programs and services that meet their needs, she said. "They're well-connected with what's available. We see this as a resource for the community."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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