Case Study: Senior Living Transformation

With its roots in healthcare, Sun Health formed a partnership with the Banner Health system that eventually led to a new focus for the company—from that of an acute care provider to a healthy living provider.

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By Anne Cosgrove
From the November/December 2015 Issue

Sun Health, based in the Phoenix, AZ metro region, is a community based health and wellness organization comprised of Sun Health Senior Living, Sun Health Foundation, and Sun Health Community Wellness. With its roots in healthcare, the company formed a partnership with the Banner Health system in 2008 that eventually led to a new focus for the company—from that of an acute care provider to a healthy living provider. As such, the company’s three senior living communities—Grandview Terrace, La Loma Village, and The Colonnade—have steadily evolved from a heavy focus on acute healthcare to providing a continuum of care. And since 2013, more than $100 million has been invested in renovations and expansions at these three communities in the Phoenix area.

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The Grandview Terrace Health and Rehabilitation facility (formerly Grandview Care Center) in Sun City West, AZ includes skilled nursing units, a new assisted living facility (top and middle), and memory care residence (above). (Photos: Kevin Korczyk)

Most recently completed, in August 2015, was a major renovation and expansion at Grandview Terrace in Sun City West, AZ. The multi-phase project included the 50,000 square foot Grandview Terrace Health and Rehabilitation building (formerly Grandview Care Center), which now features sub-acute rehabilitation facilities, assisted living residences, a memory support suite, and skilled nursing care. These levels of care are all offered in one building, providing residents with a seamless transition to higher levels of care as their needs change.

Joseph LaRue, executive vice president of Sun Health and head of the organization’s real estate development team, says, “Several years ago, we looked at the upcoming changes in the healthcare industry and made a strategic decision across all of our senior living campuses. We decided to reduce our exposure to government reimbursement programs and grow private pay. In essence, we decided to change from a healthcare model of senior living to a hospitality model.”

He continues, “Also, we wanted assisted living and memory care to look, feel, and operate more like a residence than a nursing home.”

One of the accomplished goals in this shift was to reduce the number of skilled nursing facility beds across the three communities, from 277 to 150. Another goal was to expand assisted living options and to develop dedicated memory care residences.

Grandview Terrace Project

At the Grandview Terrace Health and Rehabilitation facility, the recently completed renovation reconfigured, enhanced, and added offerings for residents. New elements include the assisted living facility and the memory support residence.

The first phase, completed in 2014, was the remodel of the skilled nursing residences on the second and third floors. While reducing the number of skilled nursing beds from 179 to 75 at Grandview Terrace, the project added amenities, life enrichment activities, restaurant style dining, and 24-hour skilled nursing care.

Opened in January 2015, the new Grandview memory support residence includes 16 private suites, within a secure environment to protect patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Each suite includes a “front porch” to create a sense of familiarity, and shared features include a memory garden, sensory room, and aroma space to support cognitive activity and aid in therapy.

Most recently, two floors of existing space (formerly a child care center for employees) were transformed into a 20 unit assisted living residence. Occupying approximately 14,000 square feet, the ground floor there includes an Internet cafe, gift shop, movie theater, chapel/library, spa/salon area, and dining room. There is also a health clinic for residents, staffed by a physician and nurse practitioner.

Residences in the assisted living facility are located on the second floor. Options include one two-bedroom unit, 13 one-bedroom units, and six studio suites. Common areas feature a lounge, a business center, a community laundry room, and a fitness area.

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Joseph LaRue
Executive Vice President
Sun Health

A Chat With Joseph LaRue

What are your responsibilities with Sun Health?  I am executive vice president of Sun Health, a local nonprofit organization that champions healthy living, research, health care through community partnerships that create, develop and foster superior living, learning, and working environments. I joined Sun Health in 2005.

During your tenure in senior living facilities, what is a notable development impacting how you do your job?  We have changed our contracting on major projects from a design-hard bid to a design-build with guaranteed maximum price. By doing so, it requires us early in the process to organize a team that works cooperatively to take a concept to design, construction, start-up, and operation more effectively. This process also provides us flexibility throughout the development to make changes and/or enhancements and adjust to any new or unanticipated internal or external factors.

Meanwhile, LaRue and his team are working with architects from Todd & Associates, drawing up plans to address immediate and long-term needs at Grandview’s independent living community. With more than 300 residents, these condominiums are offered in 16 distinct floor plans. This project’s funding and overall scope is currently subject to Sun Health board approval and construction planning. Improvements being considered include redesigning the main entrance and renovating common areas.

Construction Strategies

Minimizing the impact of the construction process on residents was a primary concern, while at the same time maximizing efficiency of the process. LaRue shares that bringing key players together early on and often was an important part of the process: “Our operations team, our senior leadership team, and the construction team got together to figure out: How do we phase the project to keep operations running at its highest level, yet complete it as quickly as possible to minimize disruption?”

The operations team was the linchpin there, notes LaRue. “We had excellent community management and operations, from our campus executive director to our front line dining staff,” he says. “Our number one priority with construction and development is resident satisfaction. Under the leadership of the executive director, all employees are part of the process, and they delivered top tier resident satisfaction.”

Meanwhile, Sun Health’s approach to construction continues to evolve. As the company has moved toward overseeing its developments (versus relying on outside developers) contracting on major projects has changed from a design-hard bid approach to a design-build with guaranteed maximum price. “We realized the hard bid approach is inconsistent with some of our priorities,” explains LaRue. “For instance, we have to maintain high resident satisfaction, so we need team members that understand and enhance that. In addition, we need a process that will deliver a product efficiently, from both cost and timing standpoints.”

Reflecting this team approach, Sun Health instituted “Coffee with a Contractor,” inviting residents to meet with a contractor spokesperson on a bi-weekly basis during a construction project.

The Next Frontier

With the Grandview Terrace Health and Rehabilitation facility improvements complete, Sun Health has reached another milestone. Grandview’s independent living component is next on the drawing board, with construction expected to begin during 2016.

Meanwhile, LaRue also has his eye on technology implementation. “There is a good deal of technology in place behind the scenes to operate the buildings, and the next stage is to focus on what future residents will want,” he says. “We want to make sure our campuses have the infrastructure to support a wide bandwidth of technology, so that we’ll be able to support whatever capabilities residents are seeking.”

This article is based on project literature and an interview with LaRue.

Project Information

Name of Facility: Sun Health Grandview Health and Rehabilitation. Square Footage: 120,000. Construction Timetable: Early 2013 to August 2015. Facility Owner: Sun Health Senior Living. In-House Project Manager/Facility Manager: Neal Smith and Paul Vanderveen, project managers; Gabe Gomes, facility manager. General Contractor: Weitz. Electrical/Mechanical Engineer: NP Engineering. Structural Engineer: TLCP.

Product Information

Flooring: Arizona Tile; Daltile; Marazzi (tile). Armstrong; Mannington (resilient). Carpet: Shaw; J&J Invision; Masland. Paint/Coatings: Dunn-Edwards. Restroom Fixtures: Creative Specialties by Moen. Building Management System: Alerton. FM Software: MicroMain. Fire System: Vigilant. Lighting Products: Atlantic; Cooper; Cree; LBD; Metalux; OCL; Progress. HVAC Equipment: Trane. Exit Signs: Thomas & Betts. Doors: EightynineA.


Please share your comments below. To send an overview of your new construction or renovation story for article consideration, send an e-mail to acosgrove@groupc.com.

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