WILLMAR - Clustered in a bay lit by tall southeast-facing windows, the tables and chairs in the mini-café at the new Bethesda Wellness Center are waiting to become a favorite gathering spot for the community's older adults.
It's the hope of leaders at Bethesda Health and Housing that the café will be one of many things that draw seniors to the wellness center and help enhance their emotional, social and physical health. The new wellness center officially opens Nov. 1 next door to the Bethesda Pleasant View skilled nursing facility.
Bethesda is investing $6 million in the project, which brings a wellness and prevention focus to services for the 55-and-older population.
"The desire of everyone is to stay out of long-term care," said Michelle Haefner, chief operating officer of Bethesda Health and Housing. "The future of senior care is offering more choices."
Construction was recently completed on the first, and largest, phase of the project: an exercise and wellness center, new space for Bethesda's rehabilitation services, a new home for the Bethesda Home Health offices, and new space for Day Break, Bethesda's senior day program.
Within the next month, ground will be broken for the next phase -- an indoor warm-water swimming pool. In the final stage, starting later in 2011, Bethesda will add resident rooms for its short-term rehabilitation program at Pleasant View.
Bethesda officials wanted an innovative approach that offers opportunities for older adults to restore and maintain their fitness and be able to remain safely independent in their homes. The expanded space for rehab and day programming also is expected to meet a growing need for these services.
"We've always been reactive. We've treated after the fact," said Bunne Frost-Johnston, outreach coordinator. "Now we're going to try to keep them healthy."
At every turn, the wellness center is designed with the well-being of older adults in mind. Among its features:
- A gym furnished with exercise equipment tailored for older users and the muscular, joint and mobility issues that can arise with age. "Smart" cards will enable each user to customize and keep track of his or her own fitness regimen.
- A multipurpose room for group exercise, classes in Pilates and yoga, and educational and community meetings.
- A spa where massage therapy will be offered.
- A café and juice bar for encouraging relaxation and socializing.
Warm brown tones, plentiful windows and a liberal use of decorative wood create a soothing environment. "We worked with an interior designer who incorporated the whole wellness feel to the building -- calming colors and things like that," Haefner said.
In what's believed to be a first in the region, the wellness center will enroll anyone from the community who's 55 and older. New members to Club Bethesda, as the program has been dubbed, can sit down with Tiffany Krogstad, the wellness director, to develop a personalized exercise plan and nutrition consultation.
Krogstad, who is also a qualified dietitian, said she's already fielding queries about membership.
"I've had phone calls. There's definitely good talk out there, which is exciting," she said.
The hope is to help middle-aged and older adults get launched on lifestyle habits that can sustain their health as they age, Krogstad said.
"It's a lot about prevention. It's about being able to do those daily activities -- opening your cupboards, getting up out of your chair," she said. "It's never too late to get started."
New space for Bethesda's physical, occupational and speech therapy programs will allow these services to expand, not only for Bethesda residents but also for outpatients from the community.
"We anticipate our program will grow," Haefner said.
With a new home for Day Break, Bethesda's day service for older adults, the capacity for this program will increase as well, from 41 to 63. The program provides activities, supervision, meals and medication management during the daytime, allowing these seniors to return home at the end of the day.
"It's just a wonderful service to offer to people who are still in their own home but need help during the day. We're really looking at helping the caregiver," Frost-Johnston said.
When the service opens in its new setting Nov. 1, there will be enough space so that clients at differing levels of independence can be served appropriately, she said.
Frost-Johnston thinks families will especially welcome the addition of two new rooms for overnight and weekend respite care. "When you talk to caregivers, that's often the real need they voice," she said. "That's what we're hoping to provide to the community."
More than six years of discussion, research and planning took place before ground was broken in 2009 for the wellness center. Bethesda officials said they and the staff are eager to show it off to the community in a series of open houses this month.
"It's exciting to see it come to fruition," Frost-Johnston said.