Shepherd of the Valley Builds to Expand in Liberty

LIBERTY TOWNSHIP, Ohio – Now that the chaos of finishing construction on a new senior care center and moving residents in during a pandemic has settled, Shepherd of the Valley is ready to take the next steps at its newest site in Liberty Township.

The site, which first welcomed residents July 21, is the culmination of nearly a decade of discussions and planning to replace Shepherd’s campus in Niles.

“[We were] able to find this parcel that fit perfectly with the demographic studies we had done and highway accessibility,” says Rick Mattix, associate director of Shepherd of the Valley Liberty. “That was coupled with the fact that our Niles campus – I do want to say the city of Niles was very supportive of us – was an aging complex that was landlocked so we couldn’t do any building. We did some cosmetic upgrades; but they were old structures.”

The newest building in Shepherd’s portfolio is the senior-care company’s largest in terms of square footage but not capacity, says CEO Richard Limongi. Instead, the extra space is dedicated to offering residents more areas to socialize and participate in activities.

The new Liberty campus, which replaces Shepherd of the Valley’s space in Niles, was chosen because of its accessibility and room to expand when capacity is met.

Throughout the building, 1501 Tibbetts-Wick Road, are lounges with chairs, sofas and wall-mounted TVs. One space is filled with children’s toys for grandparents to entice their youngest relatives. Just off the main entrance is a bar area – currently closed because of COVID-19 safety restrictions – that will eventually host happy hours.

“We don’t want residents to go into their unit and not communicate, not socialize. These living spaces are here to encourage them to get out and socialize,” Limongi says. “As you look at the design of the building, the lounges, the bar area, the bocce court, we want people to remain as independent as possible. Next year, we’ll have some raised gardens outside. The things they’ve done at home – we want them to be able to do it here and enhance that with group activities.”

Shepherd of the Valley Liberty offers a continuum of care that addresses nearly every need of older adults. It has 30 independent living apartments, assisted living care, skilled nursing care and – in a first for Shepherd – a memory-care unit.

“We’ve been in business since 1972, so we know what we’re doing,” Mattix says. “Memory care is new to us, but we’ve done studies and had a lot of focus groups and internal committees. We’re coming to the table with a genuine true memory care program.”

Staff working in the unit have received new training on how to work with patients who have Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and conferred with the Alzheimer’s Association on how to best deliver care.

“Part of it requires us to learn as we go because this is brand-new to all of us,” he says. “I envision a lot of impromptu activities where whatever they’re doing at that moment, that’s what you engage them in. We’re going to rely on families to give us some history – what they liked to do, where they worked, what their interests are – so we can apply that to our day-to-day interaction.”

On the other end of the care-level spectrum, the independent living apartments mark the first time Shepherd has offered a format other than condos for that level of care. With that comes additional services that Limongi says leadership has seen the industry shift toward.

The 30 independent living apartments at Shepherd’s new Liberty site range from 800 to 1,400 square feet.

“What we’re starting to see is that people moving in during the independent stage needed some additional services from Day One,” he says. “Not only do they have things like their own kitchen where they can cook if they like, but they can also get a meal service plan. From a health standpoint, they can get closer monitoring. Once a week, an RN goes through and does wellness checks like blood pressure checks or sugar tests if they have diabetes.”

Also in the building is a spacious physical and occupational therapy center, which Shepherd has partnered with Blue Sky Therapy to operate. Inside are therapy center standards such as resistance bands and a small wooden staircase.

But there’s also a car parked here to help residents regain the functions they need to get in and out, as well as a kitchen area and a washroom – complete with a washer and dryer – to rehabilitate residents so they can do everyday functions.

Although Shepherd of the Valley Liberty isn’t at maximum capacity, leadership is looking at what might come next. Unlike the Niles site it replaces, there’s ample room to expand at the new property.

“We made an intentionally small footprint here so that we could continue to build on this location if the opportunity presents itself,” Mattix says.

Independent condos, such as what’s found at other Shepherd sites, might be added and, Mattix says, a wellness center has been discussed, where residents could use the gym or outside fitness instructors could host, for example, yoga or tai chi classes. Already, Shepherd has partnered with Silver Sneakers to bring in activities, although they’re on pause because of the pandemic.

The site was also chosen, Limongi says, because of how easy it is to reach from nearby communities.

“When we did our feasibility study, this property can service the needs of the people of Liberty but we also have Niles, Girard, McDonald, Hubbard, Brookfield, the south end of Howland,” he says. “It’s very accessible for family members and consumers. It’s right off Route 11, Route 82, Route 193. When we built our Niles campus, it was about being out of the way. Now, it’s about accessibility.”

Overall, the Liberty site serves fewer residents than Niles did. The assisted living service building is licensed for 60 beds, down from 96 in Niles.

“We scaled that back because we’re trying out memory care. But nursing numbers stayed the same and the independent apartments are brand-new,” Mattix says. “So there are fewer  units than Niles, but we feel this is a much better scenario.”

All told, Limongi says he expects capacity to be reached within a year, at which point Shepherd of the Valley will look more closely at what the next phases are for both the Liberty campus and the senior-care organization as a whole.

“We want to make sure that everything on campus is going well and we want to look at what services are needed that we don’t [have],” he says.

“We want to continue reaching out to the community. Unfortunately with this pandemic, we’re not able to do a lot of things we wanted to do, like hold a ribbon cutting ceremony or install a time capsule or hold an open house. At some point, we want to do all of that.”

The pandemic also temporarily hampered the arrival of new residents, although all sites have seen about a 15% increase in occupancy, Limongi reports, despite a period where senior care centers were barred from admitting new residents.

“We’re starting to see people feel less reserved as far as coming in, whether it’s at the nursing level or assisted level,” he says. “Independent living at our other sites hasn’t really been an issue as far as moving in.”

Pictured: Shepherd of the Valley CEO Richard Limongi and Rich Mattix, associate director of its Liberty campus, say development of the Liberty Township site has been discussed for a decade. It unites all of Shepherd’s care levels under one roof.