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New Milford Wellness Village seeks to fill Sussex care gap

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The former Milford Memorial Hospital will eventually be transformed into a wellness campus under the watch of Nationwide Healthcare Services. | DBT PHOTO COURTESY CEISLER MEDIA

MILFORD — Nationwide Healthcare Services CEO Meir Gelley aims to break down gaps in care in Kent and Sussex counties with Polaris Health Care and Rehabilitation Center anticipating to start accepting its first residents next week.

Polaris, a skilled nursing center with a capacity of 150 beds, is the heart of Nationwide’s Milford Wellness Village, located at 21 W. Clarke Ave. The facility will serve both as a long-term nursing home for elderly patients in need as well as those in need of residential short-term, post-acute care following surgeries or other procedures.

The center is just one piece of the $30 million Milford Wellness Village, however, which when fully built out will include an array of health care services as well as housing. Wellness villages are planned unit developments with health care at their core, and a growing idea for community planning around the country. The Milford project will be Delaware’s first of the model.

Polaris plans to create about 150 jobs, while other providers at Milford Wellness Village could bring an additional 200 jobs, Nationwide representatives said.

“This facility has walls, but imagine that it has no walls,” Gelley told the Delaware Business Times. “Following a patient after they leave the home is what we found to be successful. We want to make sure if a patient leaves, they can continue to see the same doctors for post-acute care.”

Nationwide bought the former Milford Memorial Hospital from Bayhealth last year with the vision of transforming it into a one-stop shop for post-acute care. The state’s economic investment body, the Council on Development Finance, approved a $1.2 million grant for Nationwide’s capital investment in the project.

Next week, Polaris will open its first 26 beds. More wings will be added on the first and second floors, eventually bringing the facility to its 150-bed capacity by as early as January 2022.

But Gelley’s vision is not just to treat the senior population of southern Delaware, it’s to expand services to all residents of various ages and income levels.

La Red Health Center relocating from Georgetown to the campus — bringing 25 employees with it — was the first major step in reaching that goal. La Red, a federally qualified health center, offers major medical services and recently added a low-income dental program.

Other future additions to the Milford Wellness Village include Aquacare Physical Therapy; Kidz, Ink Academy of Early Academics, with classrooms for 160 kids; and medical daycare center Nurses ’n Kids. All are expected to open their doors this year.

Right now, about half of the Milford Wellness Village’s space is leased, but Gelley told DBT he’s in talks to bring a dialysis treatment, a laboratory and an adult daycare center. Eventually, his goal is to bring in doctor practices and pharmacies.

There’s a great need for nursing care in Sussex County, as the Delaware Health Resource Board reported that private nursing home admissions increased about 60% from 2006 to 2016. Later reports estimated a nursing bed shortage of 225 beds.

But Gelley said the Milford Wellness Village is also designed to keep Milford’s rising health care hub in mind as well. This project is a first for the company, which specializes in buying struggling nursing homes and turning them around. Nationwide runs two other nursing centers in Delaware — the Regal Heights Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Hockessin and the Regency Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center in Wilmington — as well as four more in Pennsylvania.

“Bayhealth built a state-of-the-art, glorious hospital … [but] hospitals are places where you go when you need to, for a day or two. Here we’re looking to fill in the gaps and see patients before they come back to us through the hospital system,” Gelley said.

The Milford Wellness Village covers 12 acres of ground, although Nationwide bought 22 acres. Right now, Gelley said his attention is on completing its work within the existing space rather than expand further south, especially as Milford could be seeing a building boom.

There are tentative plans to develop senior housing on the campus, but that’s sometime in the future.

“At this time, I want to put all my energy and focus on this building,” he said. “I really want us to be successful here.”

Nationwide encourages residents, families and others interested in nursing care to contact 302-503-7650 to speak directly with a Polaris team member.

By Katie Tabeling

[email protected]

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