Byron Health Care Center’s residents are excited about the new community being built for them at Lake Avenue and Beacon Street, and so are staff.

With the newness of it all, including a huge fireplace in the main building, lots of natural light streaming through windows and plenty of amenities, one staff member is most impressed by the elevator that she’ll soon be able to use in the 2-story assisted living building.

“For 35 years I’ve walked up and down every night,” Sarah Starcher, executive director, said the staff member remarked.

The nearly 130,000-square-foot complex being built by Weigand Construction of Fort Wayne is laid out in a series of 1-story buildings. Each “neighborhood” will have 20 single residences and two shared rooms. A shared kitchen will be a new feature. Dietary staff can make something, such as bread, that can then be put into the shared kitchen’s oven, giving off a pleasant aroma. Each room, as appropriate for the resident, will have a sink, microwave, small refrigerator and a bathroom.

A “sensory neighborhood” is being designed for those with traumatic brain injuries or going through psychosis or schizophrenic episodes until their medication takes effect. Currently, those people are with the rest of the residents.

“When you believe people are talking to you and a lady with dementia talks about things you don’t understand, it’s alarming,” she said. “Right now we can’t take those residents because of the number of dementia patients.”

They’ve gotten calls from people as far as Massachusetts and Washington state form people who can’t find a facility for their loved one who’s going through psychotic episodes.

MKM, the project architect, which specializes in health care designs, added benches at the tops of flights of stairs so residents can rest alongside large windows. It also will have flower box-type decor for each resident’s door, which must have an ADA-compliant Braille room number and resident’s name. The main building with offices, known as Building G, will also have a “remembrance tree” like the one painted by a Carroll High School art student in the Lima Road location of residents who have died.

“We have residents who’ve lived their whole life” with us, Sarah Starcher, executive director, said.

Byron currently is licensed for 175 beds with residents ages 32-97. Almost all are on Medicaid. They can’t live on their own, and many can no longer be taken care of by their families.

They currently live in Byron’s Lima Road location that’s meant to house 500.

“We don’t occupy probably 40%,” CEO Deb Lambert said.

Byron last year bought the 15-acre site that had been a soccer field owned by Crossroads Child & Family Services and broke ground in October. Its complex of buildings will have 120 licensed nursing home beds and 50 assisted living beds to meet the health care needs of today.

The $38 million project includes about $12.5 million in New Market tax credits facilitated by city officials.

Many in the assisted living area also have a high rate of mental illness, Starcher said.

While Byron has a lot of outside activities for residents at the Lima Road location, including picnics, the new location will give them even greater freedom, while they stay securely on the property, Lambert said.

“If people want to sleep outside on the chaise longues, they can,” Lambert said. “...We shouldn’t spent our last years inside.”

The complex will have about $60,000 in outside furniture, where residents can also relax and eat. Fencing will prevent them from wandering off the grounds.

Recent high temperatures had construction crews coming in at 4 a.m. to pour the concrete floor in the main building. By midafternoon, visitors to the construction site could walk on it. Staff will have smaller offices in the open-concept Building G, than they currently have. It’s where residents can meet with families rather than in their bedrooms. However, if they want to remain in their own building, they can. Each building has its own entrance.

It’s also going to be a place that the public can visit, Lambert said. With two patios and a cafe to serve deli- and ice cream-type fare, workers or neighbors in the nearby health care corridor that includes the VA Northern Indiana Health Care System will be welcomed. Byron welcomes pets, too. Lambert takes her Bernese mountain dog to work each day.

Lambert says moving in at the end of April next year “would be the bees knees” because it wouldn’t be too hot for the residents.

The plan is to get donated old luggage so each resident has a suitcase for a 1-day move.

Opening in 1853 as the Allen County Poor Farm, Byron Health Center later served as a cholera clinic, a tuberculosis clinic and a hospital. In 2016, it celebrated its 50th anniversary as a specialty nursing home.

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