CHEER ventures into senior living in big way
125 independent living condos, 120 assisted living units and a 120-bed nursing home facility are planned.
CHEER operates seven senior community centers across Sussex County, but its the next project may be its biggest undertaking yet.
The nonprofit organization plans to build a retirement community incorporating lifetime medical care, known in the industry as a continuing care community. Although CHEER Inc. owns an apartment complex in Georgetown for seniors, the planned community will be far beyond anything it has attempted before.
On 35 acres adjacent to the Warren and Charles Allen Community Center in Georgetown, the groundwork for the CHEER Life Care Village is being laid. It will provide housing, services, and medical and end-of-life care for those retirement age on.
"It will handle the gamut of housing for a senior who wants to come here, wants to be part of a community, who wants to know that their needs are going to be met throughout their golden years," said Anthony DelFranco, CHEER's director of marketing.
A feasibility study undertaken by CHEER two years ago indicated that "there is a strong demonstrated need for moderate income senior housing" in Sussex County, said CHEER Executive Director Ken Bock. There is a limited amount of low-income senior housing and new high-end developments are being built for seniors all the time, but nothing else addresses the middle-income market, he said. An average of 350 people relocate to Sussex County every month, DelFranco said. Sixty percent of them are over the age of 55 with an average age of 56.
This is an answer to our growing need for senior housing," DelFranco said. "There really aren't any facilities like this in Sussex County. With the rate of senior population growing in this county, these type of communities will be in heavy demand."
The land has been owned by CHEER for several years, and the village is something the group has about for awhile, DelFranco said. The big push now is to prepare the plan for presentation to the Georgetown Town Council for approval.
Once approved, CHEER officials hope to break ground no later than fall 2018. The entire project will take about five years to complete, but the first phase may open to new tenants earlier, said developer Bob Ruggio.
Ruggio has built several communities like this in Pennsylvania. He started working with CHEER about three years ago, impressed by the services it offers to seniors in-home and at its community centers.
The centers offer social activities, events, adult day care, fitness, nutrition and educational opportunities, and CHEER in-home services include housekeeping assistance, nonmedical services related to hygiene, companionship visits and Meals on Wheels.
"We started talking about the next generation of services, and that's life care," Ruggio said. "The market is very strong there."
Plans include 25 duplex cottages and 125 condominiums designed for independent living, 120 assisted living units and a 120-bed nursing home facility. Architectural drawings depict a landscaped park environment convenient for walking, cycling, assisted mobility devices and golf carts.
Streets will exist for residents who drive but there will be no through roads, discouraging outside traffic. A main street will divide part of the assisted living complex from the nursing home, with small shops at ground level to cover basic services, including a barber or hair stylist, a convenience store or small grocery, a pharmacy and perhaps medical support services like a physical therapist.
Two buildings behind the nursing home will house medical office space. A courtyard behind the assisted living complex will allow those residents to mix with residents from the independent living condos.
Across the street from the condos, a stormwater management pond will become the center of a landscaped park with a swimming pool and clubhouse and possibly paddle boats. Farther up the street, the cottages will be arranged in wooded cul-de-sacs.
The features of the cottages and condos will be equivalent to residential homes on the market in the $150,000-$175,000 price range, Bock said.
The medical facilities will be fully staffed, Ruggio said. A walk-in clinic or urgent care facility will be open 24/7. But, he said, CHEER will not provide those services itself.
"CHEER is not an operator of assisted living or nursing," he said. "We will be going out talking to operators, people who do assisted living and nursing."
He already has a medical director on his staff, Dr. Susan Levy, a specialist in geriatric care.
"They are looking at people who can provide skilled medical care services in the assisted-living area and more so in the nursing home, which is highly specialized," Bock said. "We don't see ourselves getting directly involved in that type of operation except for management oversight in the development of the community."
A local health care services provider, like Beebe, Nanticoke, Bayhealth or Atlantic General, may be responsible for running the nursing and medical facilities, DelFranco suggested, but couldn't be more specific at this time.
The facility will generate about 400 full-time medical and community support jobs, Ruggio said.
Current CHEER services will be available to residents as part of a housing package or can be added a la carte, Bock said. Part of the Georgetown CHEER Center may become a community dining hall, offering meal plans for independent living residents. CHEER's bus fleet will be available to take residents to downtown Georgetown, and other communities and CHEER Centers.
The entire project will be privately funded, DelFranco said. CHEER's is the only brand that will be on it.
The plans are being publicized through a series of presentations to community organizations and government agencies and to members of the CHEER Community Centers.
Marsha Smith has been a volunteer at the CHEER Center in Ocean View for several years. She first heard about the project at the Georgetown center.
When CHEER gave the presentation in Ocean View, Smith went. It was an informal half-hour session followed by a question-and-answer period. Attendees could sign up for an email mailing list for more information. Follow-up presentations will be made every quarter with updated information about the status of the project, she said.
"I know a lot of people are interested," Smith said. "It does sound very exciting."
Bock said the feedback was positive, but CHEER isn't ready to begin pricing yet.
Smith is not ready to move, but said some people were already picking out which cottage they wanted after looking at the architect's plan. Although she was told that the independent residences might be ready in two years, she would rather wait until "all the little goodies" are in place, and she doesn't know if she'll be ready to settle there then.
"I would like to go talk to somebody and then figure out how this will work in my life at that time," she said.
The Ocean View presentation was well-received, said Yolanda Gallego, director of the Ocean View CHEER Center. She already has about a dozen people who have signed up for the email list.
"The value of this kind of community is that you go in, develop a circle of friends and as you all age ... you maintain those same friends, right in the same community, in familiar surroundings," Bock said. "We very fortunately are getting away from the time when you warehoused people in a nursing home two to a room."