Se­nior cen­ter a real­ity in pub­lic-pri­vate ef­fort

Fa­cil­ity with clinic ex­pected to be well-used, a blue­print for city

The Dallas Morning News - - Metro & State - By COR­BETT SMITH Staff Writer cor­bett­[email protected]­las­

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.”

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