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Specialized care in a home-like setting

Birchwood House offers assisted living option for those with movement disorders

Jenna Kamphenkel, RN/Housing and Clinical Service manager at Birchwood House; Mark Austin, director of Area Development for Prairie River Home Care; and Ashley Maiers, Hutchinson Branch manager for Prairie River Home Care, in front of the Birchwood House. The home specializes in caring for people with progressive movement disorders.

Jenna Kamphenkel, RN/Housing and Clinical Service manager at Birchwood House; Mark Austin, director of Area Development for Prairie River Home Care; and Ashley Maiers, Hutchinson Branch manager for Prairie River Home Care, in front of the Birchwood House. The home specializes in caring for people with progressive movement disorders.

    If you, a friend or a loved one struggles with a movement disorder, finding the appropriate home or facility that has the level of care you want and need isn’t always easy. Prairie River Home Care recognized the need for such a place that specializes in progressive movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Huntington’s disease. That place is the Birchwood House, located in Hutchinson.

    The idea to purchase the Birchwood House came from Judy Figge, the CEO of Prairie River Home Care.

    “Over eight years ago, my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease,” she said. “He experienced many of the symptoms, anxieties, depression, pain, apprehension and challenges that people with Parkinson’s often experience. After a year in a traditional Assisted Living facility, his care needs progressed to a point where more consistent around the clock caregiver support was needed, especially during the morning, evening and night hours.”

    Figge’s father was the inspiration behind the purchase and reopening of the Birchwood House. Her brother, Mark Austin, also works for Prairie River Home Care as the director of area development.

    “We got into this to help people with movement disorders like our father,” said Austin. “There are two things that happen to people like my father who is 89 years old and still has a sharp mind. One they are getting older and two they must deal with the effect Parkinson’s has on their body and the drugs needed to suppress many of those effects”

    Birchwood House re-opened its doors on Jan. 22, 2013. The spacious and beautifully decorated building was originally built as a hospice house. Many of beautiful Items and furniture were donated by people in and around the Hutchinson community.

    “We are licensed in Minnesota as a Board and Lodging Facility and registered as Housing with Services provider that provides home health care under the Prairie River Home Care Class A license. Prairie River is also a Medicare Certified Home Care Provider,” said Ashley Maiers, Hutchinson Branch manager for Prairie River Home Care. “The Birchwood House was designed and built as a home. When people drive by they don’t realize there is a facility here. This is a place for someone who needs personalized care but does not want to live in a large facility. They want to live in a home that can operate as a facility.”

    There are several differences between Birchwood and most assisted living or skilled nursing facilities. One of the biggest differences is the personal care given to its residents.

    “We operate with a one caregiver to three or four resident ratio,” said Maiers. “A traditional facility is somewhere around a 1-to-12 ratio or more.” It is very important to understand this key factor before deciding on placing someone in a nursing home or assisted living facility.

    That kind of specialized care, with the emphasis on movement disorders, is hard to find anywhere in Minnesota.

    “There are no other residential care home within a 50-mile radius of Hutchinson that specialize in care for movement disorders,” said Maiers.

    The staff is on site 24 hours a day and trained to understand the complex needs of those with movement disorders. Every staff member receives individualized training taken from a program developed by the Struthers Parkinson’s Center in Golden Valley, MN. The Struthers Center provides Parkinson’s training, support and awareness throughout Minnesota. All staff also receives training for ALS through the ALS Foundation. The Birchwood House is currently working to partner with Huntington’s and MS organizations to receive specialized training in all four of the major movement disorders.

    “We have a very good staff here,” said Jenna Kamphenkel, RN manager at Birchwood.

    Aides are always available to help with daily activities, such as bathing, grooming, walking, dressing and eating, and a RN is on site five days a week and on-call 24 hours a day.

    The transition into Birchwood is as easy as a phone call.

    “Before residents join us, I go to them in and complete a free evaluation,” said Kamphenkel. “From there, we determine what level of care they fall into. Once we find out where they are at, we set up a move-in date and get them started.”

    Residents can customize their services and make themselves comfortable inside and outside their rooms.

    “We find out what people like. If they like to bird watch and enjoy bird feeders, they will have bird feeders outside their window. If they like to knit or sew, we would build it around them,” said Maiers. “We customize the care, the food and the services to what they like.”

   There is no set schedule for activities and that is by design. Since activities at home generally aren’t done on a set schedule, they are not done like that at Birchwood either. It is about maintaining a home-like atmosphere. The same philosophy is used during meal time. Instead of a set schedule where everyone eats at the same time, people have a one-hour window in which they have an opportunity to sit down and enjoy their meal. All of the meals are homemade.

    Birchwood is designed to promote wellness through diet, exercise and appropriate medical care and therapy. There are different levels of movement disorders, from mild to severe. By maintaining a healthy lifestyle, residents can potentially slow down the effects the disorder has on their body and maintain a better quality of life.

    “We also have a therapy wellness room or gym. And through Prairie River Home Care, we have therapists on staff that come by,” said Kamphenkel. “The nice thing about living here is you can receive you’re therapy in-house.”

    “We can also accommodate complex medical needs,” said Maiers. “If someone was ventilator dependent, we could accommodate that. If someone had a tracheotomy, we could accommodate that. If they had infusion or IV needs, we could accommodate all that here in the house. A lot of places would not be able to accept these residents.”

    The flexibility of services, from basic needs to complex needs, allows residents to move into the Birchwood House and stay long-term instead of having to move to a Nursing Home, when more complex medical challenges arise.

    Birchwood has eight bedrooms in the facility and can hold up to 10 people (two rooms are designed for couples), all on the same level.  The facility is state-of-the-art, with a security system, emergency call system, elevator and a commercial kitchen.

    Other amenities include an exercise room, a sun room, dining and living areas, use of computers to access the Internet, guest sleeping accommodations and meeting rooms. Fee-based amenities include transportation, massage therapy, physical therapy, nail/foot care and more.

    In addition to specialized care for those with movement disorders, Birchwood offers respite care and can also accept residents in hospice care as room permits.

    Birchwood also hosts a Parkinson’s support group that meets on the last Wednesday of each month. The support group was started earlier this year and has seen a nice rise in attendance at each gathering.

Kamphenkel also co-facilitates an ALS support group each month at Rasmussen College in St. Cloud.

    Birchwood House is located at 710 Park Island Drive, Hutchinson, MN 55350. For a personal tour or for more information, call 320-587-7737. You can also visit for more details on Birchwood House.

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