Several developments are underway in and around Traverse City that would significantly increase the area’s ability to provide senior residences and care for the area’s aging population. But while the region needs that capacity to prepare for the so-called “silver tsunami,” the expansions come at the same time as existing care providers in Traverse City scramble to find enough staff to operate at full strength.
One development, called Meadow Valley, will bring an all-new $73 million senior community to an 18-acre property at 5143 North Long Lake Road. Currently under construction, the project will consist of a central building with 154 living units, as well as 20 other cottages scattered across the remaining 12 acres of the property. The main apartment building will include 50 independent living apartments, 60 assisted living units and 44 memory care suites. Apartments will be a mix of one-bedroom and two-bedroom units, while memory care suites will be available in private and semi-private designs. The project developer, Ohio-based Wallick Communities, estimates that construction will be fully completed by spring 2024.
Another development, the Village at LaFranier Woods, will add a new seniors campus on LaFranier Road near Ridge45 Apartments. The first phase of development – which is currently underway – will be similar to the Meadow Valley property, incorporating a 115-unit three-story apartment building and 12 duplex, triplex or quadplex chalets. The second phase, which would depend on market needs and demand, would add a second three-storey building with 115 units and 28 additional multi-tenant cottages. A potential third phase could add 100 assisted living and memory care units to the complex.
These two developments have the potential to add hundreds of new retirement home openings to Traverse City’s stock, at a time when shortages or waiting lists for this type of care are common. For example, Karen Anderson, president and CEO of Cordia, said The ticker in March that the seniors’ residence had only one apartment open out of its 110 units. However, these two developments would also entail significant staffing requirements. A recent press release for the Meadow Valley project said that once built and fully occupied, the community “will create up to 65 new full-time jobs in the Traverse City area to support its operations, including nurses , caregivers, cleaners, cooks, maintenance technicians and marketing and administrative staff.
The Village of LaFranier Woods, meanwhile, may have needs comparable to The Village at Bay Ridge, a seniors community similar to Traverse City owned by the same company (Heritage Senior Communities) that is developing the LaFranier project. The Village of Bay Ridge currently has approximately 45 employees serving 300 residents.
The question will be whether Northern Michigan can meet these staffing needs without negatively impacting other existing senior communities in the region. Over the past year, several local seniors’ complexes have closed due to staffing shortages. In December, Northern Star Assisted Living – a 65-bed facility at 461 Munson Ave – closed permanently, the owners citing an inability to find staff. The building (pictured) remains vacant six months later. Aurora Senior Living, a 25-room assisted living facility on US-31 North owned and operated by Traverse Victorian Assisted Living LLC, the same company that ran Northern Star, also closed last year.
The problem, according to Deb Allen – development and community engagement manager for Grand Traverse Lodges – is that most aged care facilities have not just 1-2 vacancies, but dozens. The lodges alone, she says, could immediately hire 60 certified health care aides, and have increased their salaries and expanded their recruiting network far beyond northern Michigan to try to meet the needs.
Until more workers come through the door, lodges won’t even be able to fill all the beds they have. Allen tells The ticker that the facility has a capacity of approximately 230 beds in its skilled nursing facility, plus another 80 between assisted living and independent living facilities. The current count of lodge residents, meanwhile, is 140 in skilled nursing and around 50 between assisted living and independent living – around 18% less than the facility could serve with full staff. .
As a caveat, Allen notes that not all retirement homes are in the same boat as lodges when it comes to staffing. Specifically, facilities that focus primarily or exclusively on assisted living and/or independent living do not have the same requirements as fully qualified nursing facilities.
“There’s a difference between skilled nursing facilities and assisted living communities or seniors’ apartment complexes,” says Allen. “Skilled nursing has to meet certain staff-to-resident ratios, so that’s part of our challenge here at the Pavilions. With our skilled nursing facility, we can’t just increase the number of residents we take in, because we have to make sure we’re still monitoring that with the number of direct care staff. So while The Pavilions has a waiting list [for skilled nursing care], we are very limited in the number of people we can accommodate, simply due to staffing issues. Establishments that are assisted living or self-contained residences do not have to worry about these staffing levels to the same extent.
Mike DiCarlantonio, vice president of development for Wallick Communities, is well aware of the obstacles his company will face when it comes to finding staff for Meadow Valley. It’s something the company is already thinking about and strategizing about, even two years after the likely opening date of the new community.
“Fortunately, we have the advantage of saving time with this project,” says DiCarlantonio. “But we also know that once certain things go up, they’re not really going to come down. So we adapt. In our current markets, our Human Resources team and our Senior Residence Operations team have done a fantastic job of recognizing specific organizations – such as colleges, universities, technical schools, even different care resource centers. employment – with which to associate. These relationships begin long before we open. We have already started to identify [those potential partnerships] in Traverse City and area.