Spotlight on Bridgton Health & Residential Care Center

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ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING — David Hicks, owner of Bridgton Health & Residential Care Center, jokes with Rowena Davis as she strengthens her arms on the pulleys in the physical therapy room. “Oh, I’m going home alright,” said Davis, who lives in Cornish. Hicks said her positive attitude will get her back in her home after therapy. “It’s nice to have success stories,” Hicks said. (Geraghty Photo)

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Connie Boschert knew she needed some physical therapy if she wanted to remain independent. Nonetheless, the former Fryeburg branch manager of Norway Savings Bank was filled with anxiety when her daughter drove her up to the entrance to Bridgton Health & Residential Care Center.

“I said, ‘If I can just see one smiling face — one face I recognize, I’ll be okay’,” Boschert said. “And who comes out to greet me but David (Hicks, the owner). From that point on, I said, ‘This is it!’”

Like many people, Boschert held the common misperception that the 186 Portland Road facility was only a nursing home, and not much else. But even if she hadn’t known Hicks (who used to play weekly poker with her husband), Boschert said she’s glad that she chose BHRCC as the place to regain her strength.

“This is a good place, and I’m not just saying that because David’s here,” she said. “Their help is wonderful. I’m really impressed with the cleanliness here — and that’s a big thing to me, you know.”

The West Wing

Hicks said a lot of people aren’t aware that BHRCC has a rehabilitation wing, with 13 private rooms served by its own parking area and entrance and a separate social gathering area. Called the West Wing, the rehab unit operates apart from the long-term care and residential wings, in such a manner that “You wouldn’t know you’re in a nursing home,” said Hicks. In the West Wing residents, who qualify under Medicaid after a hospitalization or debilitating illness, receive occupational and/or speech therapy as well as skilled nursing care, with the goal of regaining enough strength to return home.

Melissa Paquet is one of two full-time occupational therapists who divide their time between BHRCC and Hicks’s other facility, the Fryeburg Health & Residential Care Center. On a recent morning, Paquet was busy in the therapy room with several patients doing arm- and leg-strengthening exercises.

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MAINTAINING DIGNITY AND PRIDE — David Hicks and Social Worker Libby Graffam show off one of the 13 private rooms in the rehab wing at Bridgton Health & Residential Care Center, which operates much the same as the Swing Bed Program at Bridgton Hospital. Skilled nursing care and speech and physical therapy are provided in order to allow residents to regain the strength, mobility and independence they need to return to their homes. (Geraghty Photo)

“Wheee! Wheee!,” called out a feisty Rowena Davis, as she pumped her arms up and down on a pulley machine. The Cornish resident said she was determined to get strong enough to go home. “I don’t care,” she said when asked if her picture could be taken. When Hicks kneeled beside her for the photo, she said, “I like your shirt.”

Davis then offered what could only be the highest compliment to a nursing home owner. “If I have to come back, I’ll come back here.”

Because the rehab residents often have underlying illnesses such as dementia, not all of them are able to return home. Some need to transition into assisted living or long-term care. “But it’s nice to have success stories” like Davis, said Hicks.

Swing Beds here, too

BHRCC has offered rehab services since the 59-bed facility opened in 1985. It has 30 long-term-care beds, 16 residential care beds and 13 rehab beds. Lately, however, there have been more than a few empty rehab beds, due, in part, to the success of Bridgton Hospital’s Swing Bed Program.

“We’ve always had a good working relationship with Bridgton Hospital, but the competition has been difficult,” said Hicks. Originally, after the hospital was rebuilt, the Swing Bed Program simply allowed the hospital to “swing” its patients from acute care to skilled nursing care. As the program developed, he said, “swing beds became a direct admit from other hospitals,” causing the hospital to be in more direct competition with BHRCC for services. Insurance reimbursement rates are also higher for patients receiving rehab in a hospital than in a skilled care nursing facility.

“It hurts a little bit, you know, especially when we know it was a resident that we could have taken care of here,” said Hicks. “Where we have to break if off is when a patient needs ‘round-the-clock care, with IV antibiotics. We can’t do that.” Hicks said the hospital, at one time, considered construction of a nursing home adjacent to the hospital, but decided on an expansion instead.

“Most of the time we have a lovely working relationship with the hospital,” said Hicks. BHRCC contracts with the hospital for its speech therapy services, and the hospital has donated recliners it not longer needed. “That’s why I don’t pick on the hospital too bad; they take good care of us.”

All in the family

Hicks is a decidedly hands-on style of administrator. He does his best to get to know residents personally, and is often seen visiting in their rooms or roaming the halls. The environment is second nature to Hicks, who grew up in the business.

His grandmother Wilma began it all back in 1952, when she took three people into her Auburn home to take care of in order to pay the bills. She didn’t like living in the city, though, so she bought the Blake House on Oxford Street in Fryeburg, which had been run as a birthing center, Hicks said.

With Hicks’s mother Erna, they filled all the rooms and all their time taking care of up to 36 residents in what became known as the Hicks Nursing Home. “I grew up taking trays to the residents, as a preschooler all the way through school,” he said. The family built the Fryeburg Health Care Center in 1977, which, as with the Bridgton facility, added “Residential” to its name in the mid-1990s when nursing home rules changed to make it easier for people to qualify for residential, or assisted living, levels of care.

After his grandmother’s death in 1971, Hicks moved back to Fryeburg from Boston, Mass., where he was working as an accountant. He met his wife Elaine, who owned a nursing home in Freeport, and together they opened the Bridgton facility in 1985. The family also owns the Auburn Residential Care Center.

“I’ve been a licensed nursing home administrator for 42 years and have grown up with it since 1954,” said Hicks. “So I don’t know how to do anything else.”

Despite his experience, Hicks said it was still devastating for him when it came time to put his own mother Erna, who had developed Alzheimer’s disease, into an assisted living facility in Florida. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, and doing this every day, you’d think I’d have all the answers.”

She stayed at the Auburn facility until she started wandering off, then was transferred to Bridgton. Hicks said he needn’t have worried about her making the transition. “My mother would sit in her wheelchair at the nurse’s station as if she was still running the place,” he said. “She wheeled herself around the facility, and she would fire somebody if she didn’t like them.”


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