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Richfield Living demolishes 1970s building to make way for new senior living model

Richfield Living demolishes 1970s building to make way for new senior living model


The former bedrooms of thousands of Roanoke Valley residents sat empty and exposed Thursday after excavators ripped through the former Recovery and Care Center at Richfield Living.

The nonprofit began tearing down the multistory building, constructed in 1970, 10 days ago and plans to replace it with a new collection of apartments that align more closely with nationally recognized models of senior living.

The old building, located on Richfield Living’s Roanoke County campus west of Salem, was constructed with long, barrel hallways leading to dozens of shared rooms. Nurses woke the residents each day, administered medication and returned with trays of food. Both the interior and exterior looked and operated like a hospital.

“That is the complete opposite of what senior living is all about nowadays,” Richfield Living CEO Cherie Grisso said. “We are transitioning our community to a more homelike setting at every level of care and household that we have, and this building really didn’t fit into that vision.”

At full capacity, the Recovery and Care Center housed more than 300 residents, a cafeteria, bank, gift shop, rehabilitation gymnasium, board room and executive offices. Because of the building’s design, the staff could not offer personalized care or treatment. Staff members structured each day on a specific schedule and there was very little choice or freedom for the residents.

The new model flips the old one on its head. In the new building, residents will be in households of about 20 people. Each household will share a living room and kitchen and there will be private bedrooms for the residents.

Balconies will give residents easy outdoor access and the building will be connected to Richfield Living’s town center, which offers even more amenities. The idea is that each unit will feel and operate like a regular home.

All staff members will be cross-trained to run the households and help cook residents’ meals and coordinate activities they want to incorporate into their days. Resident choice will determine almost everything.

“That’s not really the choices that they were given before,” Grisso said. “Not because we didn’t have people that cared or that we weren’t focused on that. It’s just the model didn’t lend itself to that.”

Over the years, person-centered care, or person-directed care, has become a nationally accepted model. Pioneer Network, a national nonprofit organization, became a recognized leader in the movement after it was founded in 1997. The model encourages flexibility for residents and describes the movement as a culture change.

Richfield Living’s new building, called the Mountain Retreat, will have 64 apartments with state-of-the-art kitchens, in-unit washers and dryers and modern appliances, Grisso said. It’s expected to open in 2023.

Grisso said the new model has proven successful. The option for choice means seniors are treated more like human beings instead of being told what to do, when to shower or what to eat.

She said living in a homelike setting has also brought clinical improvements. Meals are cooked and eaten in the home with other residents, which stimulates both appetite and social interaction. Residents have maintained healthier weights and engaged with others longer.

“It’s transformational in how they enjoy their day,” Grisso said. “That’s very empowering.”

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Alison Graham covers Roanoke County and Salem news. She’s originally from Indianapolis and a graduate of Indiana University.

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