The Immanuel Lutheran Home welcomed its first residents in October of 1957. The idea for the nursing home arose because community members had to leave the Flathead Valley to access the residential care they required as they aged. Donations from Lutheran congregations around Montana helped build and sustain the home, allowing it to grow into the full-service Life Plan Community it is today. From the beginning, Immanuel Lutheran Communities has been dedicated to providing a true community for its residents. Harry Westley, the first administrator, said in an early statement, “The home will be operated as much like a home and as little like an institution as possible. No effort will be spared to provide home like atmosphere and kind and considerate treatment.”
By the time the Lutheran Home had been operating for twenty years, it had become clear that a major challenge in senior living was how best to care for those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Dr. E.O. Bratsberg, president of the Immanuel Lutheran Home’s first board of directors, took on this cause, spending countless hours fund- and awareness-raising.
In 1976, the Bratsberg Memorial Wing opened, making Immanuel Lutheran Home one of the first communities in the nation to provide a dedicated neighborhood for those with memory loss. For more than thirty-five years, the Bratsberg Wing provided specialized programming and individualized care for residents with dementia.
When Buffalo Hill Terrace opened in 1988, it was the first independent living community for seniors in the Flathead Valley. According to Clark Berg, the first Terrace marketing director, “Flathead Valley seniors had to be visionaries. There was uncertainty; no one else was offering residential living. But it didn’t take long to realize this was a financially reasonable approach to senior living.”
In addition to 100 apartments specifically for those age 55 and older, the building included indoor and outdoor recreation areas, an exercise room, a woodworking shop, a craft room, a greenhouse, a beauty salon and barber shop, a gift shop, and a library. While some of these amenities have changed over the years, the Terrace remains dedicated to spaces and programming that promote whole-person wellness for seniors.
Buffalo Hill Terrace began as a community for seniors able to live independently. By the end of the twentieth century, it was clear that some residents needed help, and they needed and wanted to receive that help in their apartment homes. To meet these needs, Buffalo Hill Terrace began offering assisted living services in 2000. With the assistance provided by the staff of nurses and CNAs, residents can stay in their homes and retain access to the Terrace’s amenities while also receiving the physical care they need.
As the Flathead Valley population grew in the twenty-first century, the need for rehabilitation services for those recovering from injury or illness increased dramatically. To meet this need, the Retreat at Buffalo Hill began providing in- and out-patient rehabilitation care in 2012. Due to the high standard of care Immanuel Lutheran Communities offers, the Retreat has become a destination of choice for Flathead Valley residents who need a place to recuperate.
At the same time, Buffalo Hill Terrace added a number of apartments to meet increased demand for independent and assisted living homes. This expansion also included a dedicated common space for the assisted living neighborhood.
In 2017, Buffalo Hill Terrace grew even more with the opening of a new lobby and covered entrance, an espresso bar, and an expanded restaurant for members of the independent and assisted living communities. The Lodge at Buffalo Hill, also part of this expansion, is a unique memory support neighborhood where those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can lead engaged lives in a secure and supportive environment. A dedicated team of specially trained staff members lead programs that help residents access the memories they can while creating new joyful moments.
Earlier in 2017, the Retreat at Buffalo Hill was expanded to include an additional 32 guest suites, bringing its total capacity to 48 short-term rehabilitation beds so that more Flathead Valley residents can now enjoy the amenities Immanuel Lutheran Communities offers.
Immanuel Lutheran Communities has always kept an eye toward the changing needs of seniors in the community. In recent years, as individuals remain independent for longer periods of time, demand for residential living apartment homes has increased. Immanuel responded: This fall, the Villas at Buffalo Hill will open, offering 36 beautifully-appointed apartments for independent seniors, a swimming pool, and an auditorium that will provide worship and gathering space.
At the same time, since demand for skilled nursing care remains high. Immanuel is renovating the Skilled Care Center to accommodate emerging healthcare technologies and to include smaller neighborhoods and private rooms with private bathrooms.
As the needs of Montana seniors continue to grow, we’ve realized that we must expand the service and charitable aspects of our ministry. The best way to do that is to grow and formalize our fundraising operations. To that end, the Immanuel Foundation was established to raise funds to support Immanuel Lutheran Communities, its residents, and its staff. The Foundation is part of Immanuel Lutheran, but our work is solely to insure that the organization has the resources it needs to continue its legacy of care for seniors in the Flathead Valley.
At the Immanuel Foundation, we believe that every senior living in Montana has the right to a safe, secure home in an engaging and supportive community. We work every day to make that vision a reality and your financial support is crucial. 60% of our Skilled Care residents are low income, Medicaid qualified. Immanuel Foundation raises funds to support these seniors in need.