Last updated: March 21. 2014 5:20PM - 1610 Views
By Ryan Carpe rcarpe@civitasmedia.com

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DARKE COUNTY - In an environment of privatized nursing homes, the Darke County Home remains a unique and specialized care facility located right in the heart of Greenville.

The Darke County Home provides 24-hour living assistance for adults with developmental disabilities and those who may need help performing everyday tasks. While care is offered by appropriate medical personnel, the facility does not offer the level of services of a standard nursing home.

“Generally the individual that resides here for the most part has limited capabilities of living out in the community on their own,” said Gracie Ratliffe. ” They need things such as shower reminders, medicine reminders and daily living skills.”

Residents at the county home are often helped with everyday tasks such as changing their clothes, doing laundry, making their beds and taking baths as well. The permanent residents currently range in ages from 21 to their 90’s, although it fluctuates based on occupancy. Many occupants are also incapable of preparing their own meals as well, therefore the home operates its own cafeteria.

“We’re not your typical nursing home. If you cannot shower, bathe, walk to the cafeteria and do your own meals, you’re more of a traditional (nursing) home resident,” said Job and Family Services Director Gracie Ratliffe.

This is in part due to a limited nursing staff the county home employs and the level of services that the facility can provide, and instead emphasizes monitoring with assistance provided as needed. For instance if a resident requires oxygen monitoring, they are no longer suitable to stay at the county home.

During their stay, residents have access to transportation available from the Greenville Transit System, bus charters and medical transportation, and enjoy regular social activities. The residents also participate in field trips to the Cincinnati Zoo and the Dayton Air Force Museum.

The Darke County Home’s role is relatively uncommon, as less than 15 county homes still exist in the state. But in years past, all 88 Ohio counties maintained a home providing similar services.

The 24-7 facility currently has 37 residents and employees 20 staff members of full and part-time staff. Roughly five years ago, the facility had more than 55 residents. However the facility has since declined its population due to transfers or residents passing away, and the facility can potentially house nearly 80 people.

Because many of the residents are developmentally disabled, which may cause unwanted complications with new members, the county home is not actively looking to facilitate new admissions.

The Darke County Home regularly receives placement inquires for those dealing with alcoholism, drug addiction or have a prior sex offense, however those residents are typically prevented from coming to the home based on their potentially risky interactions with the current residents.

“The attempted residents that have tried to come here either have come out of prison or have some real issues, so we’re not open to just taking the common Darke County resident,” said Ratliffe.

However, their doors aren’t closed to those in need.

The first criteria for taking residence in the Darke County Home is to be a resident in the county for at least five years. From there, facilitators at the home evaluate an applicant’s previous history and decide if it will be a good fit for them and the current residents at the home.

If a resident is selected for permanent stay at the home, they generally stay until their health requirements increase or if they are deemed to be able to live in a more independent environment.

Darke County Home residents may come to stay because a family member is no longer able to take care of them, or because they are taken from an abusive environment. The county home has also taken in homeless residents who have limited capacity to care for themselves and have nowhere else to go.

At times, some residents have been placed into the Darke County Home for respite services after previously attempting to live in group homes or individual homes with limited success, often failing to take their medicine. After the respite is completed, the residents are then given the opportunity to stabilize and eventually leave the home for more independent living facilities.

The first Darke County Home was constructed in 1837 on a 248-acre farm. The three-story brick structure served the community for 40 years before being struck by lightning in 1897 and burning to the ground. Seventy-five residents were housed at the fairgrounds until a hastily built temporary structure was erected, and a permanent building was completed in 1898.

However on Friday the 13th in 1978, disaster struck again when the second building was hit by lighting and burned to the ground. Residents were moved to various nursing homes in the county until the third and current structure was ready for occupancy in 1978.

The facility is entirely county-operated, meaning that funding is in part provided by the County Commissioner’s Office, roughly $400,000 annually. The rest of the funding is provided by private payers, disability payments and individuals who may provide a small retirement income.

Because the facility is not Medicaid certified, the county home retains full discretion to pick and choose their residents.

Some of the residents are privately paying for the full cost of their stay, others have no income and are publicly funded, while others have a combined income of disability payments and income from work at Wayne Industries.

This has led to conversations on the county level of whether the county home can be operated to minimize the burden from public funding. Therefore the future of the Darke County Home remains unclear, as several parties have met with the Darke County Board of Commissioners to look into privatizing the facility. As the residents decrease, the facility must also evaluate the costs associated with maintaining a 24 hour care facility.

“The future of the home is probably up for questions,” said Ratliffe.

If the facility did become privatized the current residents would still be able to remain, said Ratliffe, but the makeup of the home would change, as those with mental health issues differing from cognitive disabilities would also take residence.

“It would be a whole different setup.”

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