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Construction Delays, Staffing Issues Stall White River Junction Assisted-Living Facility

  • The assisted living and memory care facility The Village at White Junction sits between Northern Stage and the United Methodist Church in White River Junction, Vt., on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018. The opening date has been pushed back to late November. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — August Frank

  • Boom lifts await use outside the assisted living housing community The Village at White Junction in White River Junction, Vt., on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — August Frank

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/20/2018 11:22:54 PM
Modified: 10/22/2018 10:03:03 AM

White River Junction — Construction delays and a shortage of health care workers are stalling progress at The Village at White River Junction, the $27 million assisted-living and memory-care facility being built downtown at the corner of Gates and Currier streets.

Developers originally targeted a Sept. 8 opening date, which has been pushed back several times. The earliest opening now would come in late November, The Village’s executive director, Sandy Conrad, said this week.

“We’ve penciled in Nov. 29, but we know it’s not ideal to be moving people in during the holiday season,” Conrad said. “Around Thanksgiving and Christmas, a lot of people aren’t thinking about making major life changes if it isn’t necessary. If we decide it’s best, we might not be taking people in until January.”

Conrad said developers and Lyme-based construction company Estes & Gallup haven’t shared many of the details about what has caused delays, and site manager Jason Spaulding declined comment at the facility on Thursday. Parts of the exterior siding at the rear of the building remained unfinished.

“I’m trying to get to the bottom of it myself,” Conrad said. “What I keep hearing is ‘construction delays’ without much else. I was told that supplies haven’t come when they thought they’d be there. Other than that, it’s hard to say.”

About 15 people have made refundable deposits to become tenants at the 89-bed facility, whose monthly rates range from around $8,400 to more than $10,700, according to company numbers. The Village personnel have touted its amenities — including a spa, rooftop dog park, tavern and theater-style cinema — to hundreds of additional prospective residents at a series of informational dinners in a restaurant function room, Conrad said.

“We identified candidates based on age and income, sent them mail about the dinners and received much more interest than we anticipated,” Conrad said. “We’ve done a lot of tours and just added a fourth dinner. That’s been energizing as the opening date gets closer.”

Some of those who have made deposits already have selected their rooms and begun to buy furniture, Conrad said.

“We have to keep in mind that there are some people ready to move in,” she said. “We want to err on the right side in terms of making sure everything is ready, while also keeping the needs of (prospective residents) in mind as well as our own need to start bringing in revenue.”

The Village’s biggest challenge ahead is hiring sufficient staff, Conrad said. While enough culinary and housekeeping personnel have been hired to run the facility for the time being — it would need additional workers in those fields if residency were to reach full or near-full capacity — management so far has hired just three nurses. Two licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and one registered nurse (RN) are on board, far below what will be needed for the round-the-clock care that The Village has promised.

The dearth of health care applicants may reflect a statewide trend.

According to a survey conducted by Vermont Talent Pipeline Management, more than 3,900 nursing-related job vacancies are expected between now and spring 2020.

Conrad surmised that about half of the 60 or so jobs at The Village will be for LPNs, RNs, nurses’ aides and other related positions.

“That’s a critical need for us right now, to get our heath care workforce intact,” Conrad said. “We’ve been trying to be more creative by offering more perks, like the use of our gym and meals as part of the package.”

The Village last week received a temporary certificate of occupancy, allowing staff to move out of rented office space on North Main Street and begin operating from inside the facility. Office staff plans to make that transition next week, Conrad said. Meanwhile, the building still is subject to state inspection as well as approval from Life Care Services, the Iowa-based health care firm developers hired to manage the facility.

The Village also still is awaiting whether it will be allowed to access $1 million in funding from the Vermont Community Development Program, which would grant the money to the town of Hartford and allow the town to lend it to the project and keep 50 percent of The Village’s repayments.

In late August, the Hartford Selectboard agreed to apply for the grant after Conrad and developer Byron Hathorn said the money would be used to supplement working capital for startup costs, including the filling of 60 full-time low- to moderate-income jobs.

Conrad will be part of a presentation to the VCDP Board on Nov. 1, she said.

At several Selectboard meetings over the summer, some Hartford residents used deliberations surrounding the VCDP loan proposal as a springboard to voice broader concerns regarding The Village, including its perceived lack of affordability in an era when the need for affordable housing is being emphasized, its lower-level wages to many workers and its potential to exacerbate an already-strained public parking scenario downtown.

Selectboard member Kim Souza, who runs a vintage and consignment clothing store on neighboring North Main Street, said she hasn’t noticed an increase in citizen frustration levels toward The Village during its most recent construction delays.

“I haven’t been hearing a lot (of concerns),” said Souza, who added that she isn’t connected personally with anyone waiting to move into the facility. “I think people understand that construction projects sometimes take longer than expected.”

Meanwhile, Margaret Pratt Community, the assisted-living and memory-care facility being developed in Bradford, Vt., remains on schedule to move in its first residents on Dec. 14, according to Dan Hassan, president of management firm Grand Senior Living.

Managerial positions, including those involving health care, have been filled at the 32-apartment, 48-bed facility, he said, while response for hourly worker positions, including nursing staff, has been “pretty good,” according to Hassan.

“We’re doing interviews for those positions this week, in fact,” he said. “Half of the applicants have been quite good, and the other half may lack the experience or direct exposure that we’re looking for. So we’re working that out.”

Monthly rates at Margaret Pratt, an $11.3 million facility whose advertised amenities include a game lounge, hair salon and walking paths, range from around $5,400 to around $8,700.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.




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