The Shoreview-based nonprofit Ecumen has been awarded a $3 million grant it will use to overhaul its nursing home and senior housing campus in Detroit Lakes, Minn., and build what it thinks could become a national model for rural health care.
The money is one of the most significant grants to be directed toward aging services from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, and will kick start what Ecumen officials estimate will be a $7 million project.
Construction is expected to begin this spring on a new commons building that will house a telehealth clinic, hydrotherapy pool, business center, fireplace lounge, Internet café and space for classrooms and activities, such as yoga.
An existing building for transitional care will be torn down and expanded to include state-of-art facilities for occupational therapy, speech therapy and physical therapy as well as exercise equipment.
The idea is to move away from a model where the nursing home is the centerpiece of care and create a central hub to coordinate medical services to help people stay independent or in their homes longer, said Ecumen CEO Kathryn Roberts.
The services will be available to anyone in the northern Minnesota community of Detroit Lakes and surrounding Becker County, not just residents of Ecumen.
Roberts noted that the transitional care unit could be used by a 17-year-old recovering from a hockey injury as well as a 70-year-old needing physical therapy after a hip replacement.
The $3 billion Margaret A. Cargill Foundation is in the early stages of focusing how it will invest in projects to help those in rural areas to age safely and gracefully close to their communities, said Sallie Gaines, director of communications for the foundation.
Future grantmaking likely will be aimed toward organizations that can “make a measurable difference or create methodologies that can be replicated, either by that organization or others,” said Gaines.
Ecumen, a $128.7 million nonprofit, operates senior housing and services in 70 communities in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Idaho. Its Detroit Lakes location, which opened in 1964, was selected as a rural test site because the expansive campus includes a nursing home, market-rate housing and subsidized housing.
About 240 individuals and couples now live there.
As is the case with most rural areas across the nation, Becker County is older and more dependent on services than urban areas. Residents often have to travel long distances to get medical care.
Of the 32,500 residents in Becker County, about 17 percent are over 65, compared with the statewide average of about 13 percent. By 2030, more than a quarter of the county will be over 65, an age when health care costs start to rise because of multiple and more complex illnesses.
The centers are expected to be fully operational by spring of 2014.