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New county senior health care neighborhood approved for GVH

Money to come from a variety of sources

By Toni Todd

A new Senior Health Care Center is in the offing for Gunnison County. On Tuesday, June 6, Gunnison Valley Health representatives shared their vision with Gunnison County commissioners, presenting a life-like schematic of the proposed facility.

Commissioners approved the center’s request to submit an application to the city of Gunnison to build the new facility. This step was required because Gunnison Valley Health is a county entity, and as such must secure commissioner approval before making such an application to the city. On Wednesday, June 7, the Gunnison Valley Health board of directors voted to approve moving forward with the new Senior Health Care Center.

“The board has been committed to this in principle all along,” said GVH board chair Rhonda Connaway.

“It’s been an issue the hospital has wanted a solution to since 2000,” added county commissioner Phil Chamberland.

The dream has long been to create a continuum of care for elders as they move from their homes to assisted living to full nursing support to hospice.

“We’ve been working on this off and on since 2009,” said GVH’s senior care director Wade Baker. “Obviously, we’re ecstatic that we’re actually to a point where we can break ground.”

The current facility was based on what’s known as the hospital model, a structure common for nursing homes built in the 1960s and 1970s, with shared rooms and narrow hallways. “That’s what they thought was needed,” said Baker. Only three private rooms are available in the current facility. “None of us wants to share a room,” he said, emphasizing that an ongoing challenge faced by the Senior Care Center staff is roommate conflicts.

The new Senior Health Care Center is based on the neighborhood model, offering such amenities as walking paths, a community kitchen, living room, dining room, and most important, privacy. It also includes a specialized wing for elders with dementia. The current nursing home is 30,000 square feet; the new facility will be 52,000 square feet, big enough to accommodate 47 rooms, with 44 of those private, and plenty of places where residents can hang out.

Baker said they occasionally have couples who want to live together, which is why three rooms will remain as doubles. Otherwise, the new facility will bear little resemblance to the institutional stylings of the current one.

“The days when grandma would go to the nursing home and live there 15 years are over,” said Baker.

The neighborhood model will allow residents the freedom to choose whether they wish to come out of their rooms to engage or to attend an event at the center, or not. Today, if something’s happening at the nursing home, residents have little choice but to be subjected to whatever that is. “The new model will offer privacy, with easy socialization options,” said Baker, “just like we all want.”

As isolated as we are in the Gunnison Valley, Baker said we now compete with assisted living and care facilities outside our valley. Seniors often have a choice between staying here and moving to a nice, neighborhood-model facility near one of their children.

Baker said the tab is hovering at an estimated total cost just shy of $23 million. GVH’s Connaway said GVH currently has $6 million to devote to the project. An additional $1.2 million will come from a charitable contribution made to the Senior Care Center known as the Van Tuyl Fund, along with $2 million from the Senior Care Reserve.

“We’re also shopping public and private financing options,” Baker said. “The part we’re financing, we’re looking to make sure there’s no prepayment penalty.” Baker said the revenue streams projected for the new Center will enable GVH to pay off that debt faster than the length of the loan. Donations, he added, are also welcome.

Commissioners roundly supported the plan.

“A reflection of a community is how you take care of your youngest and your oldest,” said county commissioner Jonathan Houck. “This is really about dignity, and creating a place that’s a home. Action creates opportunity. This is not a replacement of the nursing home. It’s a new philosophy.”

Groundbreaking is expected as early as this July, with a projected opening date of January 2019.

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