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Bethesda gives sneak preview of $21M campus expansion in Willmar

Michelle Haefner, chief executive of Bethesda Health and Housing, describes plans for the design of a skilled-care facility in Willmar that will replace Bethesda Heritage Center with new construction at the Bethesda Pleasant View campus on East Willmar Avenue. Local business leaders were invited Thursday to Bethesda for a preview of the project. (Tribune photo by Anne Polta)

WILLMAR — Groundbreaking for a $21 million expansion of the Bethesda Health and Housing Pleasant View campus is still a couple of months away, but Bethesda is already beginning to talk publicly about the project and enlisting community support.

In a sneak preview Thursday morning for local business leaders, Bethesda unveiled plans for the campus enhancements and asked for backing as the project goes forward.

“We need your help,” said Larry Knutson, chairman of the Bethesda board of directors. “Your leadership and participation will be an inspiration for others.”

The project involves replacing 125 long-term care beds at Bethesda Heritage Center with new construction at the Pleasant View campus on East Willmar Avenue.

Ground will be broken in July. Completion is scheduled for late in 2015.

The new addition is designed to incorporate the culture change that’s sweeping through the long-term care industry: more amenities, more choices and a more person-centered environment.

It’s what most people want for themselves as they age and what most of them want for their family, said Michelle Haefner, Bethesda chief executive.

“We are a community here at Bethesda. We want to enhance that,” she said.

The 15 or so business leaders who attended the Thursday morning breakfast heard an overview of what’s planned, complete with architectural drawings of a new facility designed around the concept of “neighborhoods” with private rooms, self-contained dining areas and access to the outdoors.

Shared space such as a café and a “town center” will create opportunities for residents to remain active and social, Haefner said. “It incorporates wellness and active lifestyles.”

Bethesda leaders said they need to position the organization as well as possible for a future that will include a rapidly expanding older population.

“We all know the demographics,” Haefner said. “Our senior population, both here in Willmar and the county and nationwide, is expanding.”

People are living longer, and there’s a shrinking number of younger workers to care for them, she said.

Redesigning how long-term skilled care is provided will help not only with staffing efficiencies but with better health and quality of life for residents as well, said Rick Moore, an architect with the Minneapolis firm of Horty Elving, the designer of the Bethesda project.

“The end goal, from our perspective, is to create an environment with better outcomes,” he said.

The project has been approved by Bethesda’s board of directors. It also recently passed review by the Willmar Planning Commission.

About $18 million of the cost will be financed through a federal loan. The remaining $3 million will be paid for through a communitywide capital campaign that will be launched this summer.

Knutson called it “a great opportunity” for Bethesda to invest in meeting a key community need.

“I think we’re really fortunate in this community to have the ability to do what we’re taking on here. … This capital campaign is the most important campaign in our history,” he said.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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