Living in the golden years


Paul Abzug said he "stumbled" into an opportunity when he came through Wadena looking for a site to build independent senior living.

What the Deephaven, Minn. businessman realized was that Wadena was really wanting for assisted senior living. Some research confirmed the community had only one facility of that type.

As president of Housing Alternatives Development Company, he started the ball rolling on a $5.3 million project in February on Hemlock Avenue in northwest Wadena. Construction of a 49-unit senior living facility began Feb. 1. Last Thursday, The Meadows of Wadena officially opened.

HADC owns three other "campuses" that meet a variety of requirements for their residents. Two are in New Ulm and the third is in Cloquet.

Since opening their first facility in 1998, Abzug and his company have gained some interesting insights into senior living.

One of the most difficult transitions for seniors and their children is moving from a private home to one where they can get help and care. They hate losing that independence.

Abzug recalled when his father had to give up his driver's license because his reactions were too slow. It was tough for his father to surrender his driving privileges, even though a doctor actually spoke to him.

The Meadows of Wadena has single and double occupancy rooms and amenities like an outdoor courtyard, a dining room and a commons area complete with a fireplace.

"Our goal is to keep people from being in their apartments, except to sleep," Abzug said.

As friendly as the atmosphere of assisted living campus is, it dependent much more on its staff.

The last thing Abzug wants is a campus which has the look and feeling of an institution.

"We try to take the institutional feeling out of the building," Abzug said.

But what appeals to the eye is not the No. 1 priority with Abzug.

"I judge our quality not on our furnishing but on our care," Abzug said.

As a non-profit company Housing Alternatives will have 23 to 25 people on their staff.

Abzug faces a daily challenge of holding onto good staff workers because he cannot afford to pay them like an independent facility can.

The Meadows of Wadena will be offering apartments and assisted care to seniors with low incomes.

"Roughly 40-50 percent are low income," Abzug said.

The Elderly Variance Program helps make it happen.

"We're not subsidized, but we are paid through those programs," Abzug said.

The 55-60 residents the facility will have at full occupancy are often impressively for their longevity. They have stood up to 80, 90 or even a century of life. Abzug and his staff know the people who reach that age usually have some health concerns, such as a lack of balance, which can lead to falls.

When Abzug entered the business, he saw many seniors who drove their own cars and even held jobs. The care they had an option to avail themselves of was often little more than a convenience. Abzug has seen that change completely.

"This is a needs-based business now," Abzug said.

The Meadows of Wadena will have housekeepers who will double as caregivers. The arrangement allows them to get to know the residents well. One of the features of this care are "well checks" which find staff looking in on residents, if they ask for the service, between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m..

Three meals a day will be provided for each and every resident, but some apartments still offer ovens in case the residents want to do some cooking. Abzug has found many of the ovens go unused, but they are nevertheless important to the residents because they give them the option of cooking their own meals if they wish.

While 14 deposits were on file the day the assisted living facility opened, Abzug expects more to come through contact with hospital discharge workers, social workers, county health people, doctors and family members.

Wadena has one other assisted living facility, Comfort Care Cottages, but Abzug has no interest in taking business away from them.

"I'm not much into competition," Abzug said. "We're just trying to fill a niche."