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Staying Faithful, Embracing Change


In the 75 years that Lutheran Haven has been supporting seniors in Oviedo, Fla., the organization has seen changes of all kinds. 

The world looked very different in 1948 when Lutheran Haven began as an orphanage for children and a haven for retired pastors. Society has changed, the economy has fluctuated nearly constantly and everything from wars to global illnesses have made an imprint on the world. 

Through it all, Lutheran Haven has stayed true to its mission to provide a quality, Christ-centered haven of care to older adults. But sometimes that has meant adapting – taking a tough situation and making the best decisions possible. 

“When times changed and society became more accepting of single moms and foster programs, then funding dried up for the orphanage and Lutheran Haven adapted to that,” explained Jerry Griffing, chief executive officer for Lutheran Haven. 

Over the years, Lutheran Haven added skilled nursing services to their offering to meet the needs of their residents and to provide the full continuum of health services right on campus. But when the healthcare landscape began to change over the last decade, Lutheran Haven knew it would need to shift once again to continue staying faithful to its mission. Then the pandemic put it all into overdrive. 

“COVID meant changes for nursing and for nursing homes, and aging was changing as well,” added Griffing. “People were wanting to stay home more. There were also other shifts in the industry that were changing how we did things, and COVID was an accelerant of all of this.” 

Faithful to the mission
These changes and shifts meant that Lutheran Haven, along with many other similar non-profit organizations, would have to make the tough decision to discontinue its skilled nursing services. 

Thankfully, with decades and decades of experience in adapting to changes, what may have spelled disaster for other organizations, meant new opportunities for Lutheran Haven and its residents. 

From the moment the board decided that they would need to shift away from skilled nursing, they started considering how they could make the most of this challenge and provide more value to their residents. 

“As we talked about the economics of repurposing the nursing home, we knew we had to come up with what we were going to do next,” said Griffing. “So, we brought in experts, [including] Dan Brown and LCEF.” 

Griffing mentioned how together they “looked at what was going on in the industry, looked at the mission, and asked, ‘How should we continue our mission of serving our population as well as thrive economically, and do it all in the most loving way possible?’” 

What came out of the ashes was the decision to embrace “Aging in Place” – a theme that described how Lutheran Haven could ensure their residents were cared for in every facet of life, in their own homes, right on campus. 

Aging in place
On the ground, “aging in place” has meant converting the old skilled nursing facility into assisted living, which doubles the assisted living space, and also offering memory care services for those whose aging requires that level of specialized attention and care. Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF) was able to help Lutheran Haven with a program to finance the expansions. 

A newly created “health concierge” helps residents manage their healthcare needs, even assisting them with planning for procedures and post-procedure care. Not only that, but the service helps residents identify areas where they have room for improvement in their health, so they can access resources sooner and hopefully delay or prevent issues. 

They’ve also begun offering an onsite therapy services program for residents as well as enhanced fitness programs that include individual and small group personal training. 

As part of the Aging in Place initiative, Lutheran Haven also built an aquatic center that offers specialty aquatic classes designed to help with joint pain, cardiovascular health and more. 

A shared mission
Lutheran Haven started implementing this full spectrum of above-and-beyond services when the nursing home ceased operations in March 2022, and all of it was the result of those honest and fruitful discussions about how to hold fast to the mission of Lutheran Haven amidst some very serious difficulties in the industry.  

And make no mistake – it was a very difficult decision. 

“My advice to other organizations is, ‘Don’t lose faith, and don’t lose sight of your mission,’” said Griffing. “We really had to think about our mission and history and recognize that, in our case, it wasn’t just about discontinuing skilled nursing. There were so many ripples and lots of impacts.” 

Michael Ray, chief financial officer for Lutheran Haven, agreed. He explained that they “had to think through all of the implications,” but ultimately, having a supportive board made a huge difference. 

“They reminded us to never forget that this is about people and what the impact of our actions is going to be on them,” he said. 

In addition to an incredible board of directors, Griffing and Ray and the rest of the Lutheran Haven team had the support of LCEF throughout the whole project and beyond. 

“LCEF isn’t our banker,” said Griffing. “They’re our partner. They have a shared mission that we have, and that’s where we’re blessed. They come in, and we look together as partners at what we’re trying to do. We can be transparent and share our problems because we all have the same goal. LCEF is helping us to rebuild our foundation, and nothing would be possible without their collaboration.” 

Snowball effect
Although the rippling impact of closing a nursing home may have been incredibly challenging and even at times traumatic for the residents and families, staff and board, God has nonetheless used these trying circumstances to bring about good at Lutheran Haven. 

Wellness is becoming an increasing priority for the residents, and Lutheran Haven has been working hard to objectively track how the Aging in Place initiative is contributing to the overall well-being of the community.  

“We continue to see a steady increase in residents registering with the health concierge service, and we’ve seen more residents participating in events now, too,” said Griffing. “We’ve seen exercise classes go from 20 in attendance to 60 and 70 people. We even have to have sign-ups for resident events now because there are so many more attending and being more active.” 

Griffing added that they also have seen more residents out riding bikes and walking outside, and generally socializing more than they used to. 

“It’s been a snowball effect,” he said, “as others see more people out, they want to be out too.” 

All of this wouldn’t have been possible if Lutheran Haven hadn’t embraced the need to adapt to change, just like they had done for more than 75 years. Not only that, but they’ve stayed true to their mission to care for people as they are aging, and they are finding ways to do it that uphold the dignity of each person and show the attentive love of Christ through it all. 

“Our residents come in healthy, and we watch them and pick up on any changes to help them get ahead of any issues,” shared Griffing. “The biggest shift in all of this has been in going from reacting to things to preventing issues, and that means that we can truly help people, no matter how they’re aging.”