BLOWING ROCK – After nine years of searching, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System is working on a partnership with Wilmington-based Liberty Senior Living to develop a senior living campus on the 68-acre tract at Chestnut Ridge in Blowing Rock.
The news was confirmed by ARHS spokesperson Vicki Stevens and Senior Vice President Rob Hudspeth.
“We’re so excited,” Hudspeth said. “It’s taken us nine years and two market studies.”
"Details of the partnership are still developing, but there is a contract and we are awaiting just a few regulatory approvals," Liberty Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilson said. "In the meantime, Liberty is consulting on the operation of The Foley Center and developing a milestones-based approach toward building the retirement facility. Eventually, The Foley Center and the retirement facility will operate together seamlessly as a full continuum of care."
The establishment of a retirement community at Chestnut Ridge has been a longtime goal for ARHS.
Chestnut Ridge sits on 68 acres located on U.S. 321 near the Blue Ridge Parkway. It consists of the post-acute treatment facility the Foley Center, the Harriet and Charles Davant Jr. Medical Clinic and the Village Pharmacy, a division of Boone Drugs Inc. Those facilities opened in the second half of 2016, with patients moved from the now-demolished Blowing Rock Hospital in early January 2017.
When developing the Foley Center, ARHS sought an agreement with Well-Spring of Greensboro to develop a retirement facility, but in 2012 the proposal fell apart after Well-Spring declined to move forward.
“When Well-Spring didn’t work out, we decided to go ahead and build a post-acute facility,” Hudspeth said. “But we didn’t just buy eight acres for the post-acute facility, we bought 68 acres with the hope of someday having a thriving senior living campus there,”
ARHS has continually searched for a partner in developing a continuing care retirement community, which Hudspeth said is sorely needed for the region.
“People are leaving the area when their spouses gets sick in order to find a community for them,” Hudspeth said.
The latest effort that resulted in the agreement with Liberty started in 2018, Hudspeth said, with 31 requests to prospective partners.
“We narrowed it down to four, then in February, (the ARHS) Board of Trustees made the decision,” Hudspeth said.
The partnership between ARHS and Liberty is a natural fit, Hudspeth added.
“Our cultures aligned,” Hudspeth said. “They’ve developed retirement communities in a number of seasonal areas and understand that the population fluctuates at certain times of the year.”
Liberty Senior Living, a branch of Liberty Healthcare Management, has developed retirement communities in Wilmington, Pinehurst, Charlotte, Candler and Mount Pleasant, S.C., with facilities under construction in Charlotte and Cary. The company was originally founded in 1875 as McNeill’s Pharmacy in Whiteville and has remained in the McNeill family ever since.
“Liberty Healthcare is an experienced family-owned company that has been helping people manage their health care and residential needs for more than 125 years,” the Liberty website states. “Our principal owners Sandy and Ronnie McNeill are proud to call North Carolina home, and are the fourth generation of McNeills immersed in the healthcare industry.”
"Liberty looks forward to working with ARHS in this partnership to develop a campus that will meet the needs of the community," Wilson said in a statement.