The biggest change to Riverside Healthy Living Community in Smithfield isn't its new nursing home, but the freedom its residents will be living with, Riverside officials say.

The new home, dubbed "Willow Creek," is part of a Riverside Health System assisted-living and rehabilitation campus at 101 John Rolfe Drive and will replace the 34-year-old Riverside Convalescent Center, Riverside officials said.

Willow Creek will have 32 beds compared to the 92 at the old facility in order to implement a "household model," which aims to make an institution feel like a house, according to Stacey Knox, the community's administrator.

About 30 people from the old facility will move to Willow Creek on Wednesday, said Caitlyn Warner, marketing representative for Riverside Health. Riverside helped 30 others find a new facility as Willow Creek won't accept Medicaid.

As construction workers put final touches on walls and lighting fixtures Thursday afternoon, Knox said the greatest difference for residents won't be their new building, but the independence they'll gain.

The "household model," developed in 1997 by the consulting firm Action Pact, aims to make nursing homes feel less like hospitals and more like places where residents "can call the shots," Knox said.

About 1,500 facilities throughout the country have adopted Action Pact's household model, but just two of those are in Virginia, according to LaVrene Norton, a founder of Action Pact. Willow Creek will be the third, after a Riverside facility in Gloucester and a home in Bridgewater.

The model calls for a cap of about 20 residents to help maintain a tight-knit community, Norton said. While Willow Creek has 34 beds, 12 of those are for short-term rehabilitation patients, Knox said.The new facility features a sitting area, a kitchen and an open dining room at the entryway. Norton said those elements are key to making it feel like a house.

Each resident's room has its own, handicap-accessible bathroom. There is a screened outdoor sitting area, which appears much like a backyard porch.But the most important part of the model is implementing the culture of independence, as if the residents were truly in their own homes, Norton said.

Warner, the marketing rep, said they have begun to implement that culture at their other facilities, and it remains the cornerstone of the change at Willow Creek.Kelsey Claude, another marketing rep, said residents will have more freedom over things people get to do in their own homes, like sleeping in or eating dinner at 6 p.m. instead of dusk. In a traditional nursing home setting, there is usually a set time for everything, she said.

"Some of our residents were farmers for years and are used to waking up before the sun is out;others worked the night shift," Claude said. "This model lets them be who they are and who they have been for years."

Warner and Claude said one challenge with the model is getting staff to break from the typical nursing home regimen. Nurses are now encouraged to spend more time with the residents, like having a one-on-one meal with them and their families.

"What we've found is that once that education on the process has been done, this method is preferred," Warner said.

Willow Creek took a year and about $8 million to build, Warner said.

The facility's assisted-living complex, Magnolia Manor, and its memory support center have also been expanded and renovated.

Norton said several homes being built in Virginia are adopting the household model.

"When people are older and frailer, oh my gosh, they should be able to feel like they're home," Norton said.

Amin can be reached by phone at 757-289-4890.  

Published: December 14, 2015