Liberty Hospital launches construction for young athletes and baby boomers

01/27/2014 3:08 PM

01/27/2014 3:08 PM

Young athletes and aging baby boomers, Liberty Hospital is getting ready for you.

The public hospital is about to begin one of its largest building binges in its 40-year history.

Ground already has been broken on a new physical rehabilitation and sports medicine center that will open this summer. And plans are being developed for a $60 million “community” on the hospital’s campus that will combine residential facilities where patients newly discharged from the hospital can live while they’re recuperating, and a healthy living center where patients can exercise and take classes on how to stay well. Eventually, the community may add more restaurants, shops and offices.

The new complex, which will occupy about 12 to 15 acres, is a response to multiple changes in how health care is being provided and paid for, as well as to the changing needs of the Liberty community, hospital CEO and president David Feess said.

Medicare is penalizing hospitals financially now if too many of their patients have to be readmitted soon after they’ve been discharged. Frequent readmissions can be a sign that their initial hospital care was inadequate. On the other hand, Medicare also has started to reward doctors and hospitals for keeping patients healthy and out of the hospital.

The new Liberty Hospital community is designed to provide places to stay to patients who have been discharged from the hospital but aren’t ready to return home. They may include patients who don’t have family nearby to help them at home, or who need rehabilitation or frequent follow-up visits to the doctor.

“There’s just a shortage of options in our community for them,” Feess said. “Development for seniors typically lags other development.”

Included in the plans for the community are a hotel for short stays by up to 40 recovering patients, 80 assisted living residences (half equipped for patients with dementia) and 20 residences for patients who need long-term skilled nursing care.

“Our goal is that you ultimately get back to living at home,” Feess said. “And if that’s not possible, we’ll offer options.”

The community residences will be designed and managed by Action Pact, a Manhattan, Kan., company that specializes in group housing for the elderly that is less institutional than traditional nursing homes. Its “household model” puts 14 to 20 residents in a building with a communal kitchen and living and dining rooms.

While some of the community’s skilled nursing care may be covered by Medicare, patients and their families will have to bear the costs of staying in the residences.

“We’ll try to make it affordable,” Feess said. “But the reality is...it won’t be inexpensive.”

Liberty Hospital turned to the Healthy Living Center of the YMCA in Clive, Iowa, near Des Moines, as the model for its own center. The hospital’s healthy living center will be a 65,000 square foot facility that will used both by newly discharged patients and by people with, or on the verge of developing, chronic illnesses such as diabetes.

Feess said the healthy living center may include yoga and massage and classes on healthy eating and cooking, but it won’t compete directly with fitness centers or community recreation programs. Instead, it will be designed primarily for people with medical conditions. Its pools will be for lap swimmers or for water aerobics or physical therapy. Its exercise machines will include equipment that is wheelchair accessible.

“There is a big segment of the population that is typically not engaged in maintaining their health and wellness,” Feess said. “We’re working with our medical staff, the city parks and recreation and with employers to see how to meet their needs.”

The community project will be financed primarily by private investors and run as a for-profit corporation. “We will have a get deal of control, but we won’t be doing the day-to-day management,” Feess said.

While plans are still under development, Liberty Hospital hopes to break ground on the community late this year or early next year and have it finished in the first half of 2016.

Closer to completion is the hospital’s new physical rehabilitation center under construction at 398 Blue Jay Drive. The new center replaces an existing rehab facility and will have additional space for a sports medicine center where youthful athletes as well as weekend warriors can go to recovery from a injury or surgery or train to improve their form.

With close to 1,900 Liberty high school students participating in athletics, about 400 local adult teams in leagues and a competitive athletic program at William Jewel College, the hospital’s orthopedic surgeons saw a growing need for sports medicine, Feess said. The new facility will include a small basketball court and room for training exercises.

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