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United Way of Lancaster County


Willow Valley Communities plans innovative dementia care center (video)

A rendering of the “Northern Neighborhood” residential section of the Memory Care Center planned at Willow Valley Communities’ Lakes Campus. (Source: Willow Valley Communities)

Lauren Renehan

Representatives of Willow Valley Communities say the Memory Care Center being planned by the nonprofit on the south end of its Lakes Campus will be the first of its kind anywhere.

“No one place has combined all of these components,” Lauren Renehan told her audience at the Ware Center on Friday.

Mary Schreiber

Renehan is the incoming executive director of Willow Valley Communities Foundation. She and Mary Schreiber, Willow Valley Communities memory support resource coordinator, were the featured speakers at Hourglass Foundation’s December First Friday Forum.

Experts say America’s elder care system needs to prepare for a wave of dementia patients as the Baby Boomers enter their last decades.

While dementia rates are declining, the total number of Americans with dementia is forecast to rise to from about 7 million today to perhaps 9 million by 2030 and 12 million by 2040. Rates of dementia are three to four times higher for Blacks than Whites, and seven to 10 times higher for the poorest 25% of Americans than the richest 25%.

Lancaster County has a higher median age than the country as a whole. It is considered one of the top retirement destinations in the country, and is home to dozens of senior communities. As a result, in terms of the prevalence of dementia, it’s “already ahead of the curve,” Renehan said.

She said Memory Care Center initiative dates to 2016, when Willow Valley Living CEO John Swanson, having placed his own father in dementia care, launched a worldwide search for best practices.

The team surveyed 30 facilities in the U.S. alone and consulted numerous experts. It found much of the innovation it was seeking at the Hogeweyk Dementia Village in the Netherlands.

Willow Valley, too, is taking a village-like approach, envisioning a 7-acre campus with an environment tailored to dementia patients. It will have a secure perimeter, making it safe for residents to roam as they wish.

The Memory Care Center layout. Click to enlarge. (Source: Willow Valley Communities)

It will feature north and south low-rise residential complexes flanking a central common building with a “Town Square.” The physical layout will maximize autonomy: Building the complexes around courtyards, for example, minimizes dead ends while defining a comfortable, human-scale outdoor area.

The mix of indoor and outdoor areas will encourage activity without being overstimulating and will be welcoming to residents and their loved ones alike.

The central building will serve not only residents but the community at large, Renehan said. In conjunction with a clinical partner, yet to be named, Willow Valley plans to offer a virtual reality “Brain Technology Center” and an area where visitors can learn about dementia, be tested for it and sign up for clinical trials.
The center will promote “brain-healthy” lifestyle habits, which studies show can lessen the risk of dementia by more than 40%, Schreiber said.

The “town square” in the Memory Care Center’s main building. (Source: Willow Valley Communities)

The Memory Care Center will have 140 apartments and will be licensed as an assisted living facility, Renehan said. Staffing numbers have yet to be finalized.

The project’s preliminary budget is $50 million, including a $5 million endowment; the construction cost has not been finalized and is subject to change.

Willow Valley Communities’ two campuses straddle Beaver Valley Pike at Willow Street Pike in West Lampeter Township. (Source: Willow Valley Communities | OUL)

Willow Valley Communities is investing $30 million. It held a capital campaign to raise the other $20 million and came in over budget, raising $22 million. A full 93% came from Willow Valley Communities residents: They have “a huge stake in the game,” Renehan said.

Groundbreaking is planned for this coming April, which would allow the project’s first phase to open by late 2025.

Willow Valley Communities is Lancaster County’s largest 55+ senior living community, with about 2,600 residents on its Manor and Lakes campuses and 1,400 employees.

Residents pay an entrance fee and a monthly fee that covers ongoing expenses. It includes “Lifecare” coverage, entitling them to increasing levels of care as needed without additional cost, including skilled nursing or memory care. The Memory Care Center would be included in that arrangement.

Entrance fees range from $99,600 to nearly $700,000, depending on the type of residence. Monthly fees also depend on residence category, and range from $2,345 to around $6,400.

Currently, Willow Valley is seeking a zoning change from West Lampeter Township to allow a slightly taller building height. It’s being requested to allow for some mechanical equipment on the buildings’ roofs, but plans can be adjusted to keep to the existing height requirement if the change isn’t granted, Renehan said.