The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

July 1, 2013

Medical ministry: Chaplain makes Spring River Christian Village his church

By Joe Hadsall
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — Allen Brintnall's Thursday started in front of a stretcher and at a funeral. It ended with donations of recycled materials to the Carthage Family Crisis Center.

The assistant administrator at Spring River Christian Village is also its chaplain. And though the center is celebrating 25 years of business as a continuing care retirement community, Brintnall has spent almost that entire time treating it like his church, filled with all the highs and lows that come with being a preacher.

He's shared the joys of families as they celebrate together, and helped ease the pain of losses. He preaches four times every week -- twice on Sunday, twice on Wednesday. He's learned when to intervene and be a calming presence for someone who is agitated, and when to back off and let things be (usually during the bingo games).

"I feel like I've tried to provide a church for these people," Brintnall said. "Granted, they come to us from all denominations, so we're one of the most ecumenical groups in town. But I just preach the word. That's all I do."

Pat Lincoln, a founding member of the center's steering committee, said that Brintnall has a strong ability to spread hope, contentment and peace through the halls.

"He means a lot," Lincoln said. "Even though he's a licensed administrator, he considers this his ministry. I call him Ôthe glue.'"


Spring River Christian Village opened 25 years ago last month and has grown into a center with a 120-bed nursing home, 80 assisted-living apartments, 46 independent living apartments and 34 duplexes, capable of housing 251 people. Managed by Christian Homes, Inc., the center is a faith-based nonprofit effort that has cared for thousands in its history.

Work to build the center began in the early '80s by Lincoln's husband, Roy, who was concerned about long-term care for his mother. The closest center that could provide what they needed was in Springfield.

"At the time there wasn't any place like this," Lincoln said. "Especially a continuing care retirement community. There wasn't that kind of thing, not enough for our population."

According to a press release from Christian Homes, Roy Lincoln contacted the corporation through a college friend, George Gahr, who happened to be CEO at the time. After initial feasibility studies proved positive, a steering committee was formed in 1984.

That started a long, challenging process of finding land and constructing buildings, as well as obtaining needed paperwork and necessary services. And funding -- lots of funding.

Those pieces came together slowly but surely, Lincoln said. The committee acquired 31 acres of land behind Northpark Mall, obtained a certificate of need from the state and drafted plans with the help of an architect who served on the committee.

"The pieces all fit together perfectly," Lincoln said. "I feel like the Lord had a hand in it all."

The committee broke ground in 1985, and the center was opened in 1988. Sen. Richard Webster and Gov. John Ashcroft spoke at a dedication ceremony for the center.

Called back

Brintnall in 1969 left a job with Hallmark Cards and moved his family from Topeka, Kan., to Joplin so he could attend Ozark Christian College. He worked in the maintenance department while he pursued he education, and in '76 earned his bachelor's degree. In '86 he decided to pursue his master's degree from Kentucky Christian College and moved to nearby West Virginia.

But Joplin called back. Officials at OCC offered a position as dorm parents to he and his wife, Joy. At the same time, Brintnall had applied for the chaplaincy at Spring River, which had just opened.

"The grass wasn't greener and the hills were higher," Brintnall said. "The way everything worked, you don't pull that stuff together unless the Lord is in the middle of it."

For 15 years, Brintnall worked extremes. He dealt with college students through being dorm parents, and with senior citizens at Spring River.

But his calling into ministry holds most firmly regarding the elderly. Something about the long-term care industry gets into the blood, he said. He joked that he was good at relating to older people, and got better as he got older.

"There's something about this industry that gets into you," he said. "Something about caring for them, getting to know them and their families. From the time they come in the door, we're involved in their lives."

Brintnall has a dual role at Spring River: In addition to being chaplain, he was named assistant administrator in 1992.

As chaplain, he ministers to the people being cared for in the center, including preaching, hospital visitations, counseling and being with the family during a patient's final days. He is also involved with center events --Êa luau was planned for Friday, and the center will have Independence Day celebrations.

His duties as assistant administrator reflect how the long-term care industry has changed over the past 25 years.


Since its opening, the center has added buildings over three construction projects, and services that reflect advances in medical care. But the biggest changes have come in the amount of documentation and governmental requirements, Brintnall said.

The center is part of the Medicare/Medicaid system, and closely follows state statutes that regulate such centers. Brintnall said that part of his job in 1988 included being a social worker, but now, two full-time social workers are part of the staff of 220 employees.

"Medicare has changed our world, how we do things, charge things and pay for things," Brintnall said. "The system is scrutinized pretty closely and has all kinds of regulations."

Changing generations have also affected what long-term care centers provide. Lincoln said that medical advances have also changed what it means to be living independently, and the center has had to keep up with those changes.

For example: The center's first dining room had no room for wheelchairs or walkers. Now that care has improved, and more are living independently with the aid of such equipment, the center has had to accommodate how it provides services.

"With much better care, and with the Medicaid involvement, people in independent living have more physical problems, but they are able to function," Lincoln said. "There's a lot higher acuity in assisted living than there used to be."

Add to that the challenges of running as a nonprofit: The center is one of the few that when Medicaid reimbursement runs short, the center foots the bill and seeks donations to help maintain that mission so that no one is ever kicked out.

Lincoln and her husband, who died in 2008, established a library at the center. Lincoln continues to volunteer there by keeping books in order and other tasks as needed, such as working dinners on Sundays.

Still a need

Needs won't go away anytime soon, as the Baby Boomer generation gets older.

Lincoln said she is proud of how far the center has come over its 25 years, and how it has filled such a need in the community. It has accomplished what it set out do, but will continue to keep up with the demands of future generations.

"I think there is a terrific need for people to finish well, with dignity and as much comfort as possible," Lincoln said. "No one is eager to be in a facility. Everyone wants to stay home, because we all fight getting older and losing control. We can make them feel as at home and comfortable as we can, with dignity."

Brintnall is able to work more on chaplain duty these days, more so than the past. He will continue to answer his calling -- including planning a sermon about freedom for today's church services.

"Everyone who comes through that door has a need," Brintnall said. "Whether they've fallen and broken a hip, or just unable to care for themselves, they all have needs."