Friendship Haven began its expansion efforts in 2012, which continues in 2013.
"We're still in the middle of it, but we made significant progress in 2012," Julie Thorson, president and chief executive officer, said. "The most significant piece is that we opened a new living opportunity called River Ridge."
River Ridge, which opened in the fall, is a unique assisted-living offering in that it is choice-based. It's certified as assisted living, but its residents can add on services if and when they desire.
-Messenger photo by Brandon L. Summers
Julie Thorson, Friendship Haven president and chief executive officer, watches the demolition of Heritage Apartments from the roof of the new health care center. The two buildings are only a few feet apart.
"With The Gardens assisted living it's a little bit different," Thorson said. "That's more of a package-based assisted living."
Opening River Ridge was a "huge accomplishment," Thorson said, not only for the residents but for its employees, who helped residents make the move from Heritage Apartments to River Ridge.
"Our team really did an excellent job of moving all those residents," she said. "We physically moved all their things over and worked through that whole process from building to building."
The River Ridge construction went nicely, Thorson said.
"Jensen Construction has been a great partner with us," she said. "We were on track and everything that's come up since we opened they addressed immediately."
The end result went "beyond my expectations," Thorson said.
"It's one thing to look at blueprints and plans and try to get a sense of what's this really going to feel like, but now the residents have their apartments decorated and they're spending time getting used to it. It's different for them, but going into each of their apartments it's fun to see how they've personalized it. The dining venue is wonderful, and we've gotten just great compliments about it, she said ."
After being delayed for asbestos abatement, the demolition of Heritage Apartments began Jan. 8.
"There's about 5 feet in between Heritage Apartments and the new construction, so taking that building down is going to be really interesting to watch," Thorson said. "It will come down in pieces and in sections, and that should take 45 days to get completely done."
She added, "It's going to look a lot different out here the next couple of weeks."
Two other projects complete the Friendship Haven expansion: the new health center and the connecting link. The structure for the new health center is currently up and contained, with work taking place inside.
"We hope to move residents from the existing health center to the new health center this summer, probably right around June," Thorson said. "Then we'll have a connecting link that will tie all of this to The Gardens and River Ridge and the Celebration Center. So we'll all finally be under one roof."
The undertaking has been monumental, Thorson said.
"The end is in sight," she said. "When we think about this time next year, we'll have a beautiful new main entrance so when folks are coming into Fort Dodge, as they look over, they won't say, oh, that's a nursing home, they'll think, what is that beautiful piece of property."
It was, however, a necessary undertaking.
"Part of what we strive to do is offer innovative and responsive services to aging adults. And to be able to do that competitively, in a building that is institutional, really isn't what people want or desire," Thorson said. "To offer a long-term care setting and health center, in a household atmosphere, in other words, much smaller, we really feel like that is being responsive to what the market wants."
This puts Friendship Haven on the "cutting edge."
"This is going to be coming from others, down the road, but we're kind of leading the charge, not only with offering new buildings, but the way we provide care is one of the things I'm very proud of," Thorson said. "What we've been working on the last several years is empowering our team members to make decisions closest to the residents as quickly as possible. Now that we're in the new building, it will make just that much more sense in the smaller environment."
Even with its expansion nearing completion, Friendship Haven still looks to the future.
"That's one thing about the type of work we do, there will never be a point where we say, oh, we have it all figured out," Thorson said. "You can always do better, you can always improve. You can always offer more education and training. That's the other thing I'm proud of, we're committed to be a learning organization."
Thorson expects construction to be completed by the end of 2013.
"All of this should be ready to go," she said. "It depends on how construction season goes, but I'm really hopeful we're in before Christmas."