Bethesda breaks ground this week for $21M project in Willmar

WILLMAR -- Ground will be officially broken Thursday for a $21 million project to expand the Bethesda Health and Housing campus. Beds at the aging Bethesda Heritage facility are being replaced with new construction on the same site as Bethesda Pl...

Street construction near Bethesda
The expanded Bethesda facility will have access off 12th Street Southeast in Willmar, pictured here. (Tribune photo by Rand Middleton)

WILLMAR - Ground will be officially broken Thursday for a $21 million project to expand the Bethesda Health and Housing campus.
Beds at the aging Bethesda Heritage facility are being replaced with new construction on the same site as Bethesda Pleasant View and the Bethesda Wellness Center.
The project, which is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2015, will unify the entire continuum of Bethesda services on one campus, said Michelle Haefner, CEO and president of Bethesda Health and Housing.
But more than this, it will help address the needs of an aging population increasingly in search of choices for how they live and how they’re cared for as they become older, she said.
“Bethesda is positioning itself for the future by doing this project and continuing to do what we do - caring for older adults. We’ve been doing this for 117 years and we continue to evolve to meet the needs,” Haefner said.
The campus expansion has been a focus of the Bethesda board’s strategic planning for the past five years.
Two additions are planned: one east of the wellness center and the other northwest of Pleasant View, replacing 125 skilled-care beds at the Heritage Center.
Lots of input from staff, residents and families went into the architectural design, Haefner said.
Their ideas and priorities are reflected in a final design that banishes the traditional institutional model in favor of one with resident “neighborhoods” containing private rooms, family-style dining rooms and comfortable places to gather for long-term and short-stay residents alike.
A town center with a sit-down cafe will provide a place for residents, families and visitors to mingle and socialize.
“The new design promotes active lifestyle,” Haefner said. “It promotes individualized care. It promotes socialization - all the elements important for aging well.”
One of the goals is to reduce some of the barriers that often keep residents of skilled nursing facilities isolated from community life, said John Martin, CEO of MGI Fund Raising Consulting Inc., which has been working with Bethesda on a $3 million capital campaign to develop community support for the project.
“That’s the intent here - to humanize it,” he said. “It allows someone to age with dignity and not give up everything. Individuals will be able to come here, families will be able to come here. … The art and the science here is to create a homelike environment with some level of care.”
In keeping with the holistic approach, outdoor spaces will be developed with gardens, walking paths and benches that invite residents to spend time outside.
Residents will have easy access to the swimming pool and fitness equipment at the Bethesda Wellness Center. The project also includes a new chapel to support spiritual life.
The goal is to meet the needs of the whole person - physical, emotional, social and spiritual, Haefner said. “All the components are important. We’re striving to wrap it all together and bring it to one campus.”
Bethesda leaders are still looking at options for the future of the Bethesda Heritage building after it’s vacated late next year, she said. Although the building has been home to staff and residents for more than 50 years and has served Bethesda well, it could no longer accommodate the model for how skilled care is changing, she said.
As word has spread of Bethesda’s building project, feedback has been positive.
“The project is resonating. People like the concept,” Martin said.
A $3 million capital campaign was launched this summer to obtain community support and backing.
The campaign and the building project have created a platform for having a broader conversation about aging, Martin said. “It’s given us an opportunity to educate people. The paradigm has shifted. You can age in the community.”
The need for skilled care is unlikely to ever go away but this doesn’t mean nursing homes will continue to look like they have in the past, Haefner said.
“The living experience in a long-term facility is much different than it was a year ago,” she said. “Bethesda is investing in the future of our community and of our mission. There has never been a more exciting time at Bethesda.”

Addition to be near Bethesda Pleasant View
Part of the addition at Bethesda in Willmar will be located northwest of Bethesda Pleasant View, which offers recreation, physical therapy and other services. (Tribune photo by Rand Middleton)

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