Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS) has agreed to a partnership with Wilmington, N.C.-based Liberty Senior Living (Liberty) to develop a senior living campus on the 68-acre tract at Chestnut Ridge in Blowing Rock, N.C.
Details of the partnership are still developing, but ARHS President and CEO Chuck Mantooth is very optimistic. He commented, “We have a contract and are awaiting just a few regulatory approvals. In the meantime, Liberty is consulting on the operation of The Foley Center and developing a milestones-based approach toward building the retirement facility. Eventually, The Foley Center and the retirement facility will operate together seamlessly as a full continuum of care.”
Mantooth added, “Back in 2012, our original plan was to develop a senior living campus at Chestnut Ridge. That’s why we bought 68 acres. Our concept was to develop a post-acute care facility in phase one and partner with another company to build a retirement village in phase two. This evolution is really the culmination of that original plan.”
Mantooth went on to say, “Throughout our contract discussions with Liberty, the synergies have been
remarkable. Their roots are in rural areas. They understand seasonal, destination markets like ours – as they have developed communities in Pinehurst, Wilmington, Mount Pleasant, and more recently in Pisgah Valley near Asheville. All of the facilities they’ve constructed are awe-inspiring and the quality reviews they receive are first-class. Liberty had everything we were looking for in a partner.”
Liberty is an experienced family-owned company that has been helping people manage their healthcare and residential needs for more than 125 years. Their principal owners, Sandy and Ronnie McNeill, are proud to call North Carolina home, and are the fourth generation of McNeill’s immersed in the healthcare industry.
The company founders, who opened their first pharmacy in 1875, established Liberty’s core values of quality, honesty and integrity that guide them to this day. Today, Liberty owns 29 skilled nursing, assisted living and retirement community developments throughout the southeast.
Liberty CEO Sandy McNeill discussed the plans at Chestnut Ridge by saying, “We are extremely pleased to have this opportunity to work with the community to add senior living options in Blowing Rock and the High Country. We will be conducting focus group meetings to understand more about what the community wants and needs. When we actually visited The Foley Center, we were blown away by its beauty and quality. We knew this was a great opportunity.”
Planning Started 10 Years Ago
In 2009, former ARHS President and CEO Richard Sparks saw what is often referred to as the “silver tsunami” on the horizon. Data during that period suggested that, on average, a wave of 10,000 “Baby Boomers” would turn 65 every day and thus become Medicare-eligible. Sparks also recognized that the High Country was ill-prepared to meet the rapidly increasing healthcare needs of its aging population. In many cases, residents had to leave the mountain in order to find independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing services.
Meanwhile, a new trend emerged in healthcare known as post-acute care. Designed with the patient in mind, post-acute care facilities serve as a cost-saving alternative for patients that are healthy enough to be discharged from the hospital, but not quite ready to safely return home. Patients in these facilities often benefit from short-term rehabilitation after surgery, as well as assisted living and long-term care. Sparks, ever the visionary, saw an opportunity in the making. Knowing in his heart that it was the right thing to do, he proposed that the healthcare system replace the outdated Blowing Rock Hospital, which had converted into a long-term care facility in 2013, with a brand new medical clinic and post-acute care center. ARHS would then identify a partner to establish a Continuing Care Retirement Community or CCRC in the heart of Blowing Rock.
In 2010, ARHS took the first step in this process by purchasing a beautiful 68-acre tract of land alongside US 321 in Blowing Rock. In 2012, Sparks formed the group of local business, education and civic leaders. They were all very passionate about finding a retirement community partner to co-locate on the 68-acre tract.
Members of the task force included; Dr. Ted Waller, Dr. Ken Peacock, Dr. Lauren Baumhover, Dr. Lori Gonzalez, Richard Sparks, Jerry Hutchens, Rob Hudspeth, Larry Nance, Dennis Quinn, Ken Wilcox, Reba Moretz and Keith Tester.
The task force visited several retirement communities in the region and over a year’s time developed a Request for Proposal (RFP) which would be sent to 27 retirement community organizations to determine their interest in building a retirement community at Chestnut Ridge.
ARHS Board of Trustee member and local businessman Kenneth Wilcox, who served on the task force, recalled the difficulty in getting any retirement community interested. “In 2012 the economy was still slow, the real estate market had not begun to adequately recover and our project was not typical. I remember us meeting with a retirement developer from South Carolina who told us to be patient. The phrase he used was, ‘You will get this thing off the ground, it’s just going to take a longer runway.”
After receiving only seven responses to the RFP, none of the communities were very interested. Wilcox added, “They all suggested that the risk was too significant.”
After The Foley Center opened in 2017, ARHS’s new President and CEO, Chuck Mantooth, reconvened the retirement community task force. The new group began meeting monthly and subsequently commissioned a market study to really understand the feasibility of developing the 68-acre tract into a senior living community.
The results from the study were compelling. Because the economy had improved, the new study projected a significant demand for residential units over the next 10 years. As a result of the new study, ARHS issued a new RFP to 33 potential retirement community partners. The results were different this time. Many retirement communities expressed interest, but Liberty Senior Living stood out.
Mantooth commented, “After a few meetings with them, it was an obvious match. Their culture aligned with ours. We knew we could work together.”
Meeting a Need
As Sparks predicted, a significant number of High Country residents have been leaving the community in order to find the senior living services they need in urban areas. Reba Moretz, a lifelong Boone resident, is excited about the future of retirement living at Chestnut Ridge. “Over the past few years I have had many friends leave the area because there are few retirement options here. They reach the point that they cannot maintain their homes or adequately care for their spouses. They need extra help. In many ways it’s a sad situation when people are forced to leave their community, their family and friends, and their social network because they have no local options for retirement. That’s why I’m pleased about this partnership with Liberty.”
In summing up his thoughts about the future for a senior living campus, Mantooth added, “This partnership is a mission accomplished and a dream fulfilled for this community. And although we faced challenges along the way, such as the harsh realities of developing a mountainside during a recession, we never gave up on the original vision.”
Today, thanks to that vision and this new partnership with Liberty Senior Living, seniors will now be able to stay on the mountain with convenient access to healthcare services for generations to come.
To learn more about Liberty Senior Living visit libertyseniorliving.com.