Senior center a reality in public-private effort
Facility with clinic expected to be well-used, a blueprint for city
Dallas’ largest senior center, the result of a public-private partnership that officials hope to replicate across the city, is open for business.
The Wellmed Charitable Foundation Senior Activity Center in Red Bird had its grand opening Thursday, attracting more than 750 people for a tour, lunch and photos with former Dallas Cowboys receiver Drew Pearson.
Officials hope the facility, in Redbird Square shopping center at Camp Wisdom Road and U.S. Highway 67, will draw 500 seniors a day from surrounding neighborhoods. The building has more than 20,000 square feet of space and includes access to amenities such as weight equipment, elliptical machines, Zumba classes and two pool tables.
Wellmed Medical Management — a for-profit health care company started
in San Antonio — spent $2.1 million on the build-out for the center and an adjoining 11,000-square-foot health care clinic, said Wellmed Charitable Foundation’s executive director, Carol Zernial.
The clinic, staffed by three doctors and two nurse practitioners affiliated with Wellmed, will have a symbiotic relationship with the center, Zernial said.
“It’s one thing to go out there and tell people, ‘Go change your behavior, exercise, eat nutritious meals,’” Zernial said. “Well then, how do you actually do that? It’s much easier to say, ‘Go out the door, and there’s a senior center.’ It’s such a good fit, because behavior change isn’t going to happen in a clinic, it’s going to happen in a community.”
While Wellmed will run the clinic, the center’s operational costs will be the responsibility of the charitable foundation.
The city’s Park and Recreation Department will also play a role, partially staffing the center with its employees and programs.
“This is really the sustainable model to continue, as we look to grow our senior centers,” said Bobby Abtahi, president of the Dallas Park Board.
Park and Recreation Director Willis Winters said the city will spend approximately $250,000 on staffing this fiscal year.
In past years, Wellmed’s foundation provided two $150,000 grants to help make senior programs free for Dallas residents. When the foundation approached Dallas about potentially partnering on a facility, city officials jumped at the chance, Winters said.
Along with City Council members Casey Thomas and Tennell Atkins, Winters was part of a contingent from City Hall that visited a Wellmed center in San Antonio a year ago. The Red Bird location — across the street from Southwest Center Mall and southern Dallas’ only standalone Starbucks — is the foundation’s eighth senior facility in Texas. The foundation has three in San Antonio and single sites in Austin, Corpus Christi, Mcallen and Harlingen.
“To introduce this model to other dead shopping centers all over Dallas ... this is an incredible model for economic development that also fulfills our needs for fitness and recreation for this demographic,” Winters said.
One of those seniors, 78-year-old Lottie Stewart, said the new Wellmed center will be another much-needed avenue for active seniors in the area.
While she still planned to use Singing Hills Recreation Center — currently undergoing renovations — more regularly, her primary care physician would be in the adjacent Wellmed clinic.
The city can’t do enough to meet the needs of its seniors, Stewart said.
“If you look around, there used to be a lot of seniors that had walkers, canes and all this stuff,” she said. “Now, there are a lot of 70-something-year-old people and they don’t need no canes, they don’t need no wheelchairs. We drive our own cars. Anytime you’re healthy, you’re going to want to be doing something.”