Administrator at Lutheran Home to retire after 27 years

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Janice Unger's protˇgˇ has been tapped to replace her.

When Janice Unger became administrator in 1979, the Lutheran Home in Cape Girardeau was a small, 120-bed assisted-care facility for the area's senior citizens.

This week, when Unger retires after 27 years, she'll be leaving behind a retirement community campus with nearly 400 beds, as well as Medicare and Alzheimer's special care units, 50 independent living duplexes, 87 apartments, adult day care, a home-health unit and hospice services.

"It was very small when I got here," said Unger, 64. "But the people on our board had a vision and together, we could see that people were living longer and needed more services. We saw that a lot of these services would be necessary."

Her replacement has already been tapped: Michelle Sinn, Unger's protˇgˇ who started as a home-health nurse and was later promoted to director of home health. Sinn said she is glad to have had Unger as a mentor.

"In the business we're in, women aren't often in those positions," Sinn said. "But it's been wonderful to have someone to look up to and to learn from. She has made this facility what it is."

Unger came to the Lutheran Hospital after graduating from the Lutheran Hospital School of Nursing, doing registered nurse consulting. As a consultant, she taught and consulted with nurse's aides, back when the Lutheran Home was referred to as a "practical home." Back then, it was run by a licensed practical nurse in charge.

Later, Unger was promoted to administrator.

"I was always interested in working with the geriatric population," Unger said. "I had worked at both hospitals and I had done some teaching at the Vo-Tech school and then this opportunity came along and I took it."

Unger oversaw a lot of expansion in her 27 years there. In 1987, 60 nursing home beds, a chapel/activity center, laundry facilities and a physical therapy department were added. Two years later, another 58 nursing home beds were added, including a 22-bed Alzheimer's unit, the first of its kind in Southeast Missouri. That addition made the Lutheran Home the largest nursing home in the region.

In 1990, the Lutheran Home Adult Day Care opened. In 1992, the Lutheran Home opened a 26-bed residential care unit. In 1994, the first duplex in Saxony Village was built. In 1996, Saxony Manor opened, housing independent living apartments and a 43-bed residential care unit.

In 2000, the Lutheran Home is one of 16 homes in Missouri selected by the Department of Health and Senior Services to participate in the Alzheimer's Demonstration Pilot. The next year, Residential Care West opens, adding 62 assisted living beds. In 2004, the Lutheran Home Hospice opens its doors.

That means today, the Lutheran Home has 274 skilled nursing beds, 105 residential care beds, 50 independent living duplexes and 87 apartments. The home employees 500.

"It's been a great challenge," Unger said. "But it's a job I've loved: I feel in my heart, my chief duty is to make it the best day possible for people in this stage of their lives."

As for now, Unger said she plans to do some traveling with her husband. Still, she said, saying goodbye is hard.

"It's hard to let go of something you raised," she said. "It's hard to let go. But they'll make it fine."

335-6611, extension 137

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