Opening doors to a new industry

There’s been a lot of emphasis in recent years to diversify the region’s economy.

Some people have focused on outdoor recreation, others rely on a growing Colorado Mesa University, and still others haven’t given up on the extraction industries.

But a new trend is emerging that is helping drive the economy in the Grand Valley as well: older people.

An aging population and a vibrant medical center are having an impact on what’s being built in the Grand Valley when it comes to health care providers.

Most recently, two new assisted nursing, rehabilitation centers are close to opening their doors, while two more skilled-nursing centers are coming online, one as soon as this fall.

The people behind that last facility, Cappella of Grand Junction, located at 628 26 1/2 Road where North Seventh Street meets Horizon Drive, say it only makes sense to build here.

“We’re offering something that’s more commonplace in Denver, which is a very competitive, saturated market with assisted living and memory support,” said Sarah Winnefeld, executive director of Cappella. “That’s commonplace in Denver. Out here, though, not at all.”

Cappella chose the site it did because of its proximity to the city’s main health care hub, which surrounds St. Mary’s Hospital.

Once online, it will offer 40 assisted living apartments and 26 memory care suites. In the meantime, though, it has generated lots of construction contracts. Fifty-five local vendors were used, Winnefeld said.

But it’s no nursing home. It will offer a home-like settings in studio, one-bedroom or two-bedroom apartments, all equipped with the latest technology designed to allow tenants to live as independently as possible while still providing the medical services they may need.

Along with that, they will have restaurant-style dining facilities, places for tenants to meet with their families and recreational and exercise facilities designed to keep them active.

It also has a section for those with memory issues.

Statistics show that Grand Junction is becoming a magnet for such new facilities. According to the Colorado State Demography Office, the city’s nearly 28,000 residents who are 65 and older are expected to more than double by 2050. Currently, about 16 percent of the city’s population is in that age bracket, far higher than the 11 percent state average.

In a report to the Colorado Legislature released by the state’s Strategic Action Planning Group on Aging last fall, the entire state is expected to see an unprecedented growth in its elderly population, and with that all parts of the state will need not only affordable housing, but accessible housing, too.

“As Colorado communities work to build housing, it is essential that policymakers explore strategies to ensure that housing built for today’s needs also is built with tomorrow’s population in mind,” the report said.

An earlier report that the group commissioned specifically on housing last year showed that on the Front Range there’s a oversupply of skilled nursing beds, but an abundance of assisted living beds.

On the Western Slope, that same report shows that there is a great need for more assisted living space, something Cappella by itself won’t satisfy.

“If we don’t add variety, we’re going to lose people to the Denver market,” Winnefeld said. “They’re already advertising over here. The big ones. They’ve been putting spreads in the Sentinel for people to come up there.”

While Cappella is being completed, a new one is to come sometime next year. That 45,000-square-foot facility, The Lodge, is a two-acre home site located just around the corner at Patterson Road and Eighth Court. It will offer 36 beds for assisted living and 12 more for memory care.

Currently, Grand Junction has about a dozen facilities aimed at serving the elderly, ranging from full-service nursing homes to more independent living retirement communities.

Meanwhile, not far west on Patterson, two new 50-bed skilled nursing/rehabilitation centers are about to come on line, another need in the valley, according to officials with the two main hospitals, St. Mary’s Hospital and Community Hospital.

The two facilities, one located at First Street and the other near 25 1/2 Road, focus not just on elderly patients, but anyone needing short-term post-operative care and rehabilitation.

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