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Expanding a Mission of Ministry

Immanuel Lutheran Communities ready to begin five-year, $45 million expansion and renovation project for memory care facilities

When Jason Cronk, the CEO at Immanuel Lutheran Communities in Kalispell, speaks about the impending wave of memory care patients and his organization’s plans to combat it, it’s hard not to think of the biblical story of Noah.

In the Bible, Noah receives divine warning of a massive flood heading toward his people, and is instructed to build an ark to outlast the waters. Along with his family, the story goes, Noah also invites his friends who might not be able to survive such an event without his help to join him.

While there might not be a literal flood headed toward Kalispell, Cronk and his organization are trying to get out the word for a different kind of disaster waiting in the wings.

“We are an aging society, and more and more people are suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s or know someone who is,” Cronk said. “It’s the sixth leading cause of death in America, and it’s the only one (of the top six causes of death) that’s not preventable, not curable.”

According to the draft Montana State Plan on Aging from the Department of Public Health and Human Services, about 16 percent of the state’s population is made up of people 65 and older.

This is a 2 percent increase in this population subset in the last five years, and puts Montana in the top five rankings for the oldest state in the country.

As the population continues to live longer, health problems stemming from the aging process will arise. Cronk said this is the reason Immanuel Lutheran Communities are pursuing a $45 million campus expansion for their Kalispell facilities to include more memory care assisted living as well as a full spectrum of care options.

“We are seeing there’s a need for this in our state, in our community, and we want to position ourselves to be able to serve people in need,” Cronk said. “Immanuel is about where there’s need, there’s ministry. We feel there’s a need.”

ILC was one of the first in the country to open a wing dedicated to Alzheimer’s patients, in 1976. ILC started in 1957 with a nursing home, and since then, has assessed what the community needs and wants, Cronk said, and those issues are part of the company’s future decisions.

Last month, Immanuel Lutheran hosted a major fundraiser to raise awareness for the expansion, as well as bring in money for the facility’s planned memory garden. The event featured the documentary “I’ll Be Me,” focusing on famous singer Glen Campbell’s struggle with Alzheimer’s, and Campbell’s daughter, Ashley Campbell, performed as well.

Cronk said the documentary screening raised about $100,000 for the memory garden, which is planned to sit between the existing Terraces at Buffalo Hill and the future Lodge at Buffalo Hill, a future assisted living memory care facility with 24 resident suites. The Lodge is expected to be complete by mid-2017, according to the ILC master plan.

In the memory care garden, which will be fully surrounded by buildings, residents will be able to access a place designed especially to trigger early memories, which Cronk noted are the last to go when a patient suffers dementia. Such triggers include a flag pole, which was offered up for sponsorship during the fundraiser, because many of the residents either served in the military or were brought up saluting the flag each morning with the Pledge of Allegiance.

Phase 1 of the five-phase campus expansion will begin spring 2016, with new assisted-living care and increasing the rooms at The Retreat, a wing built about three years ago with 16 rooms designed for short-stay patients needing physical, occupational, and speech therapies.

Cronk said it has been so popular that the overflow has sent patients into the long-term care wings, which are designed with a different purpose in mind. So the Retreat will increase its rooms from 16 to 48, with an expected completion date in early 2017.

Each phase is expected to take about a year, Cronk said, and will be completed in succession. Other expansions include The Terraces Commons, with a coffee bar and lounge and covered entrance attached to the existing Terraces, expected to be finished in 2017. That section will then connect to an area with a swimming pool, chapel, auditorium, fitness center, exercise studio and salon/day spa, with a finish date in late 2018.

The Villas at Buffalo Hill, 36 independent-living apartments part, have an expected completion date of late 2018, and the Immanuel Skilled Care Center and Neighborhoods for long-term memory care and skilled nursing care should expect renovations in 2017-2021.

Where there’s a need there’s an opportunity to meet it, Cronk said, and ILC intends to continue meeting the needs of the Flathead and beyond.

“We’re just trying to really update and reposition this campus to reach its full potential and to help and serve the valley for the next 58 years,” Cronk said.

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