Former Supermarket To Open As 'Superagency'

October 29, 2008
| By Pete Daly |
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NORTON SHORES — When Larry Hines first heard that four Muskegon health and human service agencies might be able to lower their costs by sharing space in one location — a vacant former supermarket — he was very interested in helping make it happen.

"As a taxpayer, that's a pretty intriguing concept," he said.

So one year ago, Hines, president of the Hines Corp. in Muskegon, volunteered to lead a fundraising team that would come up with the $4.7 million it would take to turn the vacant 38,000-square-foot D&W store into a daily home away from home for thousands of seniors from the area.

This month all four agencies are moving into their unique new home at 560 Seminole Road, and the fundraising team only has $500,000 left to raise. More than a dozen area corporations and organizations have kicked in funds to make the project a reality.

Occupying nearly half of the completely renovated facility is LifeCircles/PACE (Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly), a nonprofit partnership of Porter Hills Retirement Communities and Services, Mercy General Health Partners and Senior Resources Inc. Another agency taking up a major chunk of the new facility is AgeWell Services, formerly known as Nutritional Services/Meals on Wheels, which delivers meals to seniors in Muskegon, Ottawa and Oceana counties. Senior Resources will occupy about 15 percent of the building. Community Access Line of the Lakeshore (CALL 2-1-1) will occupy about 5 percent of the building. CALL 2-1-1 is the number people can call at any time of the day or night if they are in need of help provided by human service agencies.

Maggie Jensen, program director at Senior Resources and coordinator of the fundraising team behind the creation of Tanglewood Park, said the former supermarket has been turned into something akin to a "superagency."

An executive from Porter Hills who was searching for a home for LifeCircles in the Muskegon area learned about the vacant supermarket that was available for leasing, and realized it would be perfect for the agency. It had the space and mechanical infrastructure required for a medical clinic and food service, and it is located close to the I-96 expressway. LifeCircles will provide seniors from Muskegon County and part of Ottawa County with primary and specialty medical care, therapy services, nutrition counseling and social activities, and will also provide them with transportation to and from the agency every day.

LifeCircles serves seniors who are in need of skilled nursing care and eligible for it under Medicare/Medicaid, but would rather remain in their own homes. According to LifeCircles executive director Bob Mills, it is the third PACE agency set up in Michigan to help the frail elderly remain safely in their homes even though they qualify for more expensive nursing home care.

There was just one problem with the former supermarket: The space was simply too large for LifeCircles alone.

Jensen said Senior Resources, which operates under the same umbrella organization as LifeCircles, was also in need of a location in the Muskegon area. She said they realized the former supermarket was large enough for both agencies — and even more agencies, in fact. They soon realized the potential cost savings of having multiple agencies share one facility, so they contacted the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, which contributed some of the funds required for the Tanglewood Park renovation and serves as the fiduciary for the project.

Tanglewood Park will serve more than 1,800 older adults every day, according to Jensen. In addition to housing the four agencies, it will also have a senior activity center and a café open to the public. Leisure activities available to seniors there will range from tai chi to arts and crafts and cooking classes. According to Jensen, each agency will remain autonomous but will benefit from efficiencies gained by sharing staff such as receptionist, dietitian and building maintenance, plus equipment such as integrated phone and computer systems, and group purchasing.

"We don't need four separate (communications) systems," she said.

Jensen said a board room and conference rooms also will be shared.

"We're doing everything we can to be cost sensitive," said Jensen, noting in passing that the office areas incorporate used panels that have been refurbished.

Also shared is a community loan room where hospital beds, walkers and other equipment for use by people in need will be stored. Jensen said they were recently contacted by a distraught family in need of a hospital bed for a teenage son who is suffering from terminal cancer. At that moment there was not a bed available — but the very next day, one of the agencies received a donated hospital bed.

"That shows you the energy when you put agencies together," said Jensen.

As of late August, companies that had made contributions to Tanglewood Park, in addition to the Hines Corp., included SPX Corp., Shape Corp., L-3 Communications, Jackson-Merkey Contractors, Comerica Bank, Michigan Spring & Stamping, and Nichols. Other contributions came from the Shaw and Betty Walker Foundation, Alcoa Foundation Supporting Alcoa Howmet Communities, James P. and Florence M. Jackson Foundation, DTE Energy Foundation, Paul C. Johnson Foundation, the Thomas and Geraldine Seyferth Advised Fund of the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, House Foundation, John and Kathy Workman Family, Grand Haven Area Community Foundation, Lynne Sherwood Foundation, Marion A. & Ruth K. Sherwood Foundation and JSJ Foundation.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation contributed a $50,000 start-up grant for LifeCircles, to help the center hire clinical staff during its two-year start-up period. LifeCircles estimates at the end of the second year, it will be self-sustaining.

The building is being leased for nine years with an option to buy, according to Jensen. The renovation contractor was Muskegon Construction.

A public grand opening of Tanglewood Park will take place on Oct. 4. HQ

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