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BREAKING NEWS

$14-million plan in Wells, W’bago

By Staff | Sep 18, 2016

A $14-million acquisition and renovation of assisted-living facilities in Truman, Wells and Winnebago could be just around the corner.

Years have passed since plans surfaced of a substantial and collaborative project involving memory care and assisted living sites at the locations, and the timetable for funding through a hopeful United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) loan remains flexible.

But if recent progress in the research and application process is any indication, all signs point to an impending merger and heavy renovations of three Faribault County facilities.

“We want to create long-term community assets,” said John Dettloff, addressing the proposed project on behalf of Heartland Rural Services in a public meeting at Parker Oaks Communities on Tuesday. “And we think if we get a September approval, we’d move for spring construction.”

The timeframe, as Heartland president Patrick Rafferty reiterated, is more of an ideal possibility than a concrete expectation. But the mission of the entire project, which would make Heartland, a nonprofit, the owner of not only Parker Oaks in Winnebago but also Wells’ Parkview Care Center and Truman’s Truman Senior Living, remains firm.

“We want to be the employer of choice and the facility of choice in the area,” Rafferty said. “The culture of the organization is changing here, and going forward, these facilities will be like one family.”

From an ownership standpoint, that much would certainly be true. Pending approval of the USDA loan, approximately $7 million would be dedicated to purchasing the three separate facilities from Jim and Kathy Birchem, of ElderCare of Minnesota. And under Heartland, each of the facilities would operate under their own name, albeit with potentially shared staff and a shared purpose of delivering upgraded senior care.

But big changes would also be included in the transaction. About another $7 million worth of them, to be exact.

“We’d be adding 12 assisted-living apartments here,” Dettloff said, motioning to blueprints of Parker Oaks’ facility, which doubles as the home of Winnebago’s Genesis Classical Academy. “We’d possibly also have a new medical clinic here, as we’re working with Blue Earth’s United Hospital.”

Rick Ash, UHD CEO, was among the more than 30 guests at the meeting and confirmed the potential partnership, highlighting the benefits of Heartland’s long-discussed project.

“I can’t say how visionary this is,” he said. “You’ve got a good project, and I?look forward to working with you.”

The installation of a new clinic within the Winnebago facility would conceivably increase the number of area jobs on top of the roughly 150 positions the project would retain across the three involved cities.

And, more than that, it is just one of many other changes on the docket for the proposed organizational remodel.

“In Truman, we’d renovate a wing of the existing structure and reactivate one as assisted living,” Dettloff said. “And in Wells, we’d be acquiring enough space to potentially have a new campus up there.”

With or without a new facility, Wells would also be in line for construction of a 20-unit memory care and assisted living space, a proposed addition to the area’s 50-bed nursing home already in place.

Back in Winnebago, there might even be room for the construction of a public cafe within the facility, according to Dettloff. And something like that could not only warrant support from outside the senior community but, on a larger scale, represent the type of improved image Heartland seeks to create for the county’s care facilities.

“This is an opportunity for intergenerational action,” Dettloff said, referencing the shared property of Parker Oaks and Genesis’ elementary students.

And while progress of initial plans for the three-facility acquisition have been admittedly slow, especially considering word of a sale began spreading in 2013, Dettloff said his team is committed to pushing the initiative into existence.

Partnerships with facility boards and apparent encouragement from the USDA has helped keep the project moving forward, and atop Heartland’s management, Rafferty sees no reason why the $14-million venture will not reshape both the facilities and their respective communities for the better.

“I wouldn’t do this unless we had a certain level of confidence this will happen,” he said. “And having three communities work together, possibly tied in with a hospital, it opens up lots of doors.”

While Heartland awaits approval of funds through the USDA loan, which would enable an eventual closing of the facilities sale and a kickoff in building renovations, plenty of work is still to be done.

On the to-do list, Rafferty said, are further community discussions, dialogue with Genesis in regards to future spacing arrangements, employee surveys for potential training adjustments and more collaboration with a marketing organization that has been specifically tasked with upping the communication of the facilities.

All things that, come next year, Heartland hopes will have played roles in bringing its senior care facility makeover to life.