KEARNEY — A $4.5 million renovation is underway at the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society — St. John’s at 3410 Central Ave.

The facility’s first renovation since 1997, it began with Phase I last fall. A new wing added 16 private rooms for skilled nursing and rehabilitation. It was completed in March.

Phase II, consisting of interior renovations in the south wing, began in March and was finished Nov. 4.

Phase III, which began Monday, will remodel the north wing and kitchen. “We’re without a kitchen right now, so we set up a temporary kitchen. The dining room is still open,” said Shawn Leach, administrator.

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Inside, the facility’s standard double rooms are being turned into single rooms. Each will have a shower. Previously, St. John’s residents had to go down the hall to take a shower.

Every room also is getting new furniture, including beds, TVs, dressers, nightstands, lamps and chairs.

While the changes will reduce the number of beds in the facility from 70 to 56, they will greatly benefit the residents, Leach said. “I had the chance to improve the quality of life for the residents, with bigger rooms and showers. It’s something Kearney has needed for quite some time. We’ve had good reaction to it.”

The center has 40 residents at present. RMV Construction in Kearney is doing the project.

Outside, renovations also are in progress. A new entrance will feature a covered circular driveway. The entire building is getting a fresh appearance with a gray and white color scheme, new trim, new landscaping and sod. This work will be finished by the end of February.

The facility, built in 1963, provides senior care and services, including rehabilitation, independent and assisted living, and hospice beds.

Leach has been administrator of St. John’s for 18 months. He also is the administrator of Good Samaritan Society — St. Luke’s at 2201 E. 32nd Place, where renovations also are planned.

The society had considered building a new facility on land it owns at Country Club Lane and West 56th Street, but changes in Medicaid funding clouded the financial picture, he said.

“That option would’ve been $28 million. This was less than $5 million,” he said.

The need for assisted living and nursing home facilities is growing, he said, reflecting the nation’s aging population. Rehabilitation also is a need as the aging population undergoes surgery for new hips, new knees and more. “We’ll get people to the highest level of functioning before they go home,” Leach said.

Both facilities are owned by the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society in Sioux Falls, S.D. They are not connected to CHI Health Good Samaritan, which sits across the street from St. John’s.

Leach discovered his gift for working with the elderly when he did volunteer work as a student at Kearney High School. “I became fond of the elderly,” he said.

After graduating from KHS in 1990, he earned two nursing degrees and has worked in long-term care facilities here ever since. He was director of nursing at Good Samaritan Society — St. Luke’s for seven years. He earned his administrative license and became administrator at both St. Luke’s and St. John’s.

“I enjoy making the last days of residents’ lives the best they can be,” he said.

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