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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Sunshine’s senior and behavioral health services stays in the family for 75 years

A few years after World War II, Margaret Craig Dikes at age 20 told her mom about a business idea to provide senior care.

Her mother, Ellen Craig Vancil, launched that Spokane company founded in 1949 and now operated by a third generation of their family as Sunshine Health Facilities.

“My mother worked for a (care) facility, came home and told my grandmother, ‘Mom, I think we can do better,’ ” Sunshine’s CEO Nathan Dikes said.

His mother, while also studying to become a nurse, initially did most of the direct care for the elderly residents when the women began in a 14-room boarding house in Spokane’s West Central Neighborhood in Spokane. She and her mom focused on personalized attention and touches such as fresh-baked cinnamon rolls and bread.

Now a longtime Spokane Valley business, Sunshine plans to celebrate its 75 years with activities on Thursday. Nathan Dikes said his sister, Carol Dikes, recently found a written story about their relatives’ earliest business conversation, which their mom had filed among paperwork.

“That was really impactful for us to understand the ‘why,’ ” he said. “There was a need after World War II, when people were building and going back to work, to provide good quality care and services.”

By the late 1960s, Sunshine had added separate behavioral health services for clients ages 18 to 80, alongside its growing senior care services. Today, those divisions include skilled nursing, rehabilitation care, enhanced assisted living, memory care, four adult family homes and a home health agency that goes into private residences.

Sunshine, which has about 300 employees, is unusual among residential care facilities today that are largely corporate-owned and mega-sized.

Nathan Dikes became its CEO in the early 2000s, but he and three relatives are co-owners and board members together. They include sister Carol Dikes, brother David Dikes and cousin Kelly Rhoads, who all worked for the company for decades until recent retirements.

Carol Dikes was longtime social service director for skilled nursing, while his cousin, Kelly Rhoads, was the skilled nursing site administrator and later chief of finance. His brother, David Dikes, had led the fitness center and security.

His grandmother, a single mom when she became the first owner, later married Ivan Vancil. She and another daughter, Dolores Rhoads, continued to oversee the West Central site together for decades. Ellen died in 1984. Nathan Dikes said his aunt sold the Spokane site in the early 1990s.

Margaret Dikes, who later become a co-owner of Sunshine, had by 1959 married Joseph Dikes. The couple saw a need for Spokane Valley expansion, so the company in 1965 bought Sunshine’s present 7-acre campus, at 10410 E. Ninth Ave.

The site was originally part of Spokane University, a college that existed from 1913 until it closed in the early 1930s. But it already was converted to a nursing home facility by then.

“When we moved out here, my mother and father were co-owners and worked together as administrator, nurse, chief cook and bottle washer – whatever needed to be done – running the books and business, policies and procedures, and ensuring that care and services were provided,” Nathan Dikes said. His father died in 2000, and Margaret in 2012.

By the 1980s, the state of Washington had changed its classification of health care facilities, Nathan Dikes said. His parents oversaw the design and building of an 84-bed skilled nursing facility that opened in 1990.

A few years later, they were approached to expand behavioral health services and opened a 70-bed facility in 1998. In 2015, Nathan Dikes brought a 58-bed addition for behavioral health care. Sunshine offers short-term and long-term residential mental health services for people who have been diagnosed with conditions or illnesses such as clinical depression, eating disorders, anxiety, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder and co-occurring disorders.

In 2010, Sunshine began providing Medicare-certified home health care for people who need care after experiencing strokes or chronic illnesses. Sunshine serves an average of 300 people in homes, but it took a while.

“You have to bring really good people alongside,” Nathan Dikes said. “It took four years to get a certificate of need and (another) four years to get profitable, but throughout that, we were able to provide those services for people.”

The company cares for about 60 people a month in its skilled nursing facility. In other areas, the site has about 33 people in enhanced assisted living, 16 memory care patients and six residents in each of its four adult family homes.

The average cost of stay for on-site senior care ranges from about $7,300 to $9,500 a month, said Heidi Ulland, director of sales and marketing.

Sunshine has 200 to 250 admissions a year in its behavioral health programs, while helping clients return to independent living. That care has social workers, counselors, activities and other programs.

“We also have some independent living for our mental health clients in our neighborhood,” Nathan Dikes said. “People do well when they have a connection, especially a connection with Sunshine; there is less cycling back to the hospital.”

It’s just Nathan Dikes, 59, and his executive team now overseeing daily operations.

“I’m the last one standing,” he said. A fourth-generation chapter isn’t clear yet, but Nathan Dikes said he plans to stay for a while.

The industry has changed drastically in 75 years, but he said family and division leaders have always looked ahead with strategic planning to get ahead of the curve.

“You have to be intentional on how to get a mom and pop going,” Nathan Dikes said. “I don’t know that we could do what my mother and grandmother did in 1949, but then again, they gave us a good start. We’re very faith-based, and we’re simply meeting the needs of people in our community.”