Methodist Village launches $55-plus million ‘Life Plan Community,’ first in the Fort Smith area

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 378 views 

Methodist Village CEO Harvey Leffring is relatively new to Arkansas, having lived in the Fort Smith area just one year. A Chicago transplant, he is learning to call the Hogs and adjust to a city that allows him to drive from one end to the other several times during the same span it once took to drive to work in the Windy City.

But when it comes to Life Plan Communities, he’s in his element, coordinating the demands of fundraising with design and construction. With Methodist Village, he foresees the first full-service LPC in the River Valley — one allowing seniors a full scope of services and amenities from memory care to independent living.

“We have one Fort Smith lady, who now lives in a similar facility in Northwest Arkansas. She has donated to our campaign, and she told us, ‘I wish you (the LPC) could have been there when I needed you,'” Leffring told Talk Business & Politics. “It’s our mission to make sure seniors can get the choice and the lifestyle they need without having to move out of Fort Smith to do it.”

Thus far, Methodist Village has received a $1 million challenge gift from the Windgate Charitable Foundation and the Miller Family Foundation to realize its objective. The gift requires the organization to raise $2 million on its own.

Phase I is expected to cost up to $15 million, Leffring said, but all those funds do not have to be in place before the project can start.

“We’ll be able to start phase I before we raise the $3 million, but we may need another $2-$3 million before we can start phase II. We don’t know the number yet. It’s just a matter of going to the bank and saying, ‘What do we need?’ to qualify for the loans.”

Fundraising efforts for the Methodist Village expansion began in February when Leffring and his staff convinced the Board to hire Dallas-based Tyler & Associates for fundraising help. Seven months later, there is the challenge gift and approximately $300,000 in funds raised. Leffring expects Methodist Village to break ground on the 28-bed Assisted Living Center and 17-bed Memory Care Center for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients (phase I projects) by the summer of 2017 with occupancy in 2018. Phase II will be a new Nursing Center with 145 beds, and Phase III will be an Independent Living Center. The target date for project completion is 2020.

“The overall project will be a $55 million-$65 million investment in the Fort Smith community,” Leffring said. “Economic benefits, including the new construction, will be realized and it will create expanded career opportunities on our campus.”

In describing the need for the project, Leffring used the existing nursing home, which opened in 1960, as an example.

“While the facility has been well-maintained, it needs to be updated,” Leffring said. “The existing home has many design challenges one would expect from a facility that old. First, there are the cinderblock walls. They interfere with Wi-Fi signals. Also, the building just requires a lot of maintenance.” Additionally, many of Methodist Village’s units feature shared baths that are out of sync with what seniors of today — and those coming up in the so-called “Silver Tsunami” of Boomer generation retirees — expect, Leffring said.

“Seniors today are focused on their personal dignity. At our new facility, it will all be private baths, and you won’t have people sharing rooms in a way that was quite common in the ‘60s. You won’t find anybody building that way now because seniors today and seniors coming up don’t want that. It’s all about residential living versus institutional living,” Leffring said.

Methodist Village’s expansion of services will result in the full-time equivalent of 27 new jobs and an additional $1 million in payroll (combined salary and benefits) to the Fort Smith region.

“With phase one, it’s an average of about $37,000 per employee,” Leffring said. “You’ll have some that are less than that and some that are more. That’s a projection that looks out to 2020, which will be our first year of stabilization. There will also be lots of construction jobs for 12 months as we build it out.”

Methodist Village employs 160 full- and part-time employees. After the three phases are complete, Leffring expects the number to be more than 200 employees with the first 27 added in 2017 and the rest during phase III.

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