With Bill Thomas on Board, Lifesprk Brings Primary Care to Senior Living

Lifesprk has expanded its model to include bringing primary care services into senior housing settings — and senior care pioneer Dr. Bill Thomas is on board.

The Minneapolis-based organization recently launched Lifesprk Health, a move aimed at delivering primary care services to older adults in the places where they live, including in independent living, assisted living and memory care settings. Lifesprk currently offers the new service in five Minneapolis-area senior living communities. The company anticipates additional senior living partnerships as Lifesprk Health grows and evolves.

Bill Thomas (left) and Joel Theisen

Lifesprk is well-versed in innovative senior care projects. Earlier this year in May, Lifesprk teamed up with the Intermountain Healthcare system to jointly launch Homespire, a private-duty home care model for Utah’s aging population. Among Homespire’s goals are cutting health care costs and rehospitalization rates, and preventing emergency room visits.

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Lifesprk and Homespire’s person-centered approach appealed to Thomas, who is a longtime friend of Theisen and also served on Lifesprk’s advisory board. Thomas recently joined Homespire’s advisory board, and expanded his role at Lifesprk.

Thomas is known for innovations such as the Green House model of long-term care and tiny homes for aging adults called Minka, and he is also the chief wellness officer of Holiday Retirement, the nation’s largest provider of independent living communities.

Health care in a homelike setting

Under Lifesprk Health, seniors will receive services in their communities from physicians and nurse practitioners focused on geriatric health. That’s important because, as things currently stand, most seniors residing in senior living settings must still venture outside their communities and into hospitals for acute care, should they need it. But this is costly, and it also comes with a host of well-documented health risks, according to Lifesprk CEO and founder Joel Theisen.

“If [a senior living resident] has a fall, or something’s not going right, what our nurses have had to do is call an on-call service in a clinic or hospital, and the on-call service usually says, send them into the ER,” Theisen told Senior Housing News. “But in our model now, when a nurse has a situation like that, we call our geriatric-focused NP or MD, who is available 24/7. It’s a much better outcome for the family and for the client.”

For senior living providers, the potential benefits are numerous, Theisen said. For one, it allows providers to offer most of the services an older adult might need under one roof. This, in turn, can help residents age in place, increase length of stay and reduce health-related resident discharges.

And, as technology, payment methods and resident expectations change the senior living industry, providers would do well to embrace this kind of forward-thinking care model, Thomas explained.

“If you are a senior living provider and you don’t jump onto that, you are going to miss a major competitive advantage,” Thomas told SHN. “Because people are starting to think about what experience they are going to have, not just from a housing point of view, but from a housing and services point of view.”

Indeed, recent research shows there is a shift occurring in the way care is delivered to senior living residents. Specifically, there is a rising prevalence of primary care being provided by doctors in assisted living settings. Primary care visits for assisted living residents grew from 100,575 in 2011 to 129,805 in 2014, according to a recent research paper touted by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

“One hundred percent of the people living in [senior living communities] need access to primary care, and over time an increasingly high percentage of them need access to supports and services,” Thomas said. “What if a provider of housing is able to wrap the housing access around to primary care and supported services? That’s what’s coming down the pike.”

In another example of this trend, Erickson Living — the nation’s sixth-largest senior living provider, according to industry association Argentum — offers both on-site primary care at its communities and a Medicare Advantage health plan to its residents. In this way, Catonsville, Maryland-based Erickson Living offers housing, health care and health insurance benefits in a wrap-around service model.

Written by Tim Regan

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