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by Michael McCord

New Hampshire Business Review, February 26, 1999

Reprinted with permission of the New Hampshire Business Review

Brothers David and Dan Trahan with their sister Eileen and her daughter Deanne Piet stand by portrait of Leon and Grace Trahan, founders of Seacoast Health Center in Hampton

Ask any student how difficult it is to achieve a perfect test score. But it’s even more difficult when you’re a health care facility hoping to earn a perfect survey score from state inspectors. And that’s what makes the feat by Seacoast Health Center in Hampton all the more remarkable –for the facility has done it not once, but two years in a row — 1997 and 1998.

The secret to such success, says Seacoast Health Center Vice President Daniel P. Trahan, “is largely due to the hard work and commitment our staff has for the residents.” And that commitment, he says, is born of a long family tradition to skilled nursing care that goes back three generations in the Trahan family — and will likely extend to at least another generation.

Located on Route 1, the 117-bed facility has been run by the Trahan family since 1973. But the family’s roots in the nursing home industry go back more than five decades, to a time when Dan Trahan’s grandparents converted an old Victorian home in Manchester they had purchased for $1,000 into a 34-bed nursing home.

And it truly was a family affair. Dan Trahan, his younger brother David (who is now plant manager) and their older sister Eileen Piet (a registered nurse who is now assistant administrator of the facility) lived in an apartment with their parents, Leon and Grace, in what became known as The Myrtle Convalescent Home. During a recent interview with family members in Hampton, they traded stories about growing into a career.

Dan Trahan says, “We were born and bred into an environment of caring. When my grandparents first opened their doors, many times they would take in the homeless or transients brought by the police. Many times patients would arrive in the middle of the night in ambulances after being treated at a local hospital. But they weren’t patients to us, they were more like family.”

“Yes, they were our extended family, and as kids we always felt we had more grandmas and grandpas than anyone else at school,” says Eileen. And David Trahan acknowledges some things haven’t changed. “It’s nothing to see our kids running around the nursing home, talking to the residents, helping the residents.” For Eileen, the intangible benefit is that “our children appreciate and respect the elderly population more than most. It makes a difference in everyone’s lives.”

A sign of that commitment is found in the amount of work Leon, 85, ,a? Grace, 75, still put into the facility. “It s in their blood. They can’t even go on vacation without calling in to see how things are going,” Dan Trahan says.

It’s not too surprising to learn that a fourth generation of Trahans is already in place to operate the facility in the future. David’s wife Carol works in the business and his son Craig is on the maintenance staff. Eileen’s daughter DeAnne, 23, is a chef, and has worked at Seacoast Health Center since she was 16. And waiting in the wings is Dan’s 12-year-old daughter Emily, who has told her father she wants to take over the business someday.

The Traham family stand in front of their recently expanded Seacoast Health Center

Changing landscape

The family moved its base of operation from Manchester to Hampton when they fast leased in 1973 the 50-bed facility known as Exeter-Hampton Manor, which had been run by the Herman Goffman family. The name was changed to Seacoast Health Center in 1975, after the Trahans purchased it. The facility grew to 75 beds, and then to 117 in the past decade. To meet the increased patient care needs, Seacoast Health Center has a staff of 125 and is one of the largest employers in the community. Staff diversity reflects the changes in quality and quantity that have transformed the nursing home field in the past 30 years — they have specialists in nursing, diet, physical rehabilitation, social services and recreation, in addition to the other nuts and bolts areas of administration, housekeeping and laundry.

“As with other top facilities, if you work here you learn quite a few aspects of the business, which is why we pride ourselves in paying good salaries to our employees. We believe their commitment to the patients should match our commitment to them,” Eileen Piet says. “And it’s hard to keep good help in the midst of a growing economy.”

Another change the family is confronting is the ever-changing economic landscape of health care. The always growing maze of state and federal regulations regarding Medicare reimbursement is more difficult to decipher and adhere to than it was a quarter-century ago. Dan Trahan wishes he didn’t spend so much time in court cases trying to collect money from families after state regulators denied payment for services after care was provided. He points to a stack of papers on his desk that he says represents unpaid bills totaling more than $250,000. The disputes arise through determinations of a patient’s ability to pay and their health care needs, which do not always coincide. And the result is that they see more patients who are more severely ill.

“So much of my time now is spent figuring who can pay and who can’t or whether they should be in a nursing home or receiving home care … though I understand their need to keep costs down, I hate fighting with the state. It has taken away some of the joy I have in the work I do” says Eileen Piet.

Yet another expansion is taking place at Seacoast Health Center. After more than a decade of planning, a $10 million, three-story, 60-bed assisted living facility specializing in Alzheimer’s and related dementia care will open in the spring. Called the Partridge House (named in honor of the family who once owned the land), the facility contains private apartments in which residents can live by themselves or with roommates but still receive 24-hour nursing care and a separate staff of 50. The facility will include such amenities as common social areas, an indoor pool, a gilt shop and even a hairdresser.

“This represents what’s happening in the marketplace. Until recently, residents have had the choice of either being in a nursing home or elderly housing. But some aren’t sick enough to be in a nursing home, yet need varying levels of assistance” says Dan Trahan.

He also is aware of the constant mergers taking place in the health care field and the difficulties of remaining independent. “Depending on the level of buying frenzy taking place, I usually get about one call a month from large corporations, but it’s not something we’re interested in. It would be much different if we were just corporate administrators rather than being able to make decisions for ourselves that affect our reputation, which we’ve taken so long to build.”

Dave Trahan adds that it’s more than a matter of the bottom line. “We’re earning a good living, But are we rich? Far from it.”

“I still see us here in 10 years” Dan Trahan says. And given the family tradition, perhaps much longer than that.

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