Weather Forecast


Bethesda restructures as it looks to the future

WILLMAR -- As the new chief operating officer of Bethesda, Michelle Haefner oversees a diverse organization ranging from home health care and assisted living to long-term skilled care.

Over the next several months, one of her tasks will be to help integrate all of Bethesda's services for older adults and start positioning the organization for the future.

What older adults want for their lives -- choices, privacy, space, independence -- is becoming vastly different from 10 years ago, Haefner said. "We're taking a look at all of that."

Haefner's position was created last fall after the Bethesda board of directors launched a strategic planning effort.

One of the things identified was a need to have someone in charge overall, said Sharon Tack, development director.

"We did some restructuring. Out of that came Michelle's position," she said.

With nearly 400 employees, Bethesda is one of Willmar's larger employers. Its two long-term care homes, Heritage and Pleasant View, have 250 residents. It operates a housing division in Willmar, an assisted living home in Olivia, a home health care agency and a day service for older adults.

A large part of Haefner's new role is to unite these services and help forge a stronger identity for Bethesda.

"A lot of people don't realize we're all under one umbrella," she said. "This is all Bethesda. That's one of my tasks -- bridging those gaps and having it function as one."

She'll also be working with the board and key management to tackle the strategic plan.

One of the things being undertaken is a community needs assessment. All the Bethesda facilities, especially Heritage Center, the older of Bethesda's two skilled care homes, will be evaluated to determine whether they meet future needs.

At one time, when people entered a nursing home they usually stayed there for the rest of their lives, Tack said. This has changed dramatically over the last decade. Many people now go into a nursing home for only a short time -- to receive physical therapy after knee replacement surgery, for instance -- and then return to their own home.

"There is a changing paradigm," Tack said. "We're doing a lot more short-term rehabilitation in both of the nursing homes."

What clients want is also changing, Haefner said. They're looking for a setting that's home-like rather than institutional. They want amenities such as a private room and access to a computer.

As long-term care shifts away from the old model, there's a greater emphasis as well on preventing illness and injury among older adults.

"We're working on incorporating wellness into our organization," Haefner said. "Ultimately the goal is to keep people in their own home and find alternatives to long-term care."

Bethesda's strategic plan also will address staff recruitment and retention.

Haefner said she has been impressed with the staff and the care they provide. "Staff is such an important part of what we do here. We want to be able to recruit and retain high-quality people," she said.

Before coming to Bethesda, she was the chief executive and administrator of Cokato Health and Housing in Cokato. She and her husband, Jon, who is a chiropractor, have an 8-year-old daughter and 4-year-old twins.

Haefner's first experience with long-term care was at the age of 16, when she was hired as a dietary aide at her hometown nursing home.

"In some form or another, I've been involved with the aging population ever since and I really enjoy it," she said.

She is a licensed nursing home administrator and has a master's degree from Minnesota State University at Mankato.