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'Heartfelt' care

An aging population means more people with Alzheimer's need a place to live out their years, leaving the Ashland-Talent area 200 beds short in memory care facilities — something two builders hope to change.

John Chmelir and development partner Barry Thalden plan to break ground soon on Lithia Place, a 44-bed memory care residential facility on Highway 99 at South Valley View, between TC Chevrolet and Lithia Springs Resort.

The 22,000-square-foot, three-wing facility on two acres will “take care of elders, feed, administer prescriptions, provide exercise and activities for people whose interest and abilities are fairly limited,” says Chmelir.

Folks with dementia and Alzheimer's tend to wander, so the facility will be secure and protect against that, he says.

“The mission is to provide a safe and caring, dignified environment for people with varying degrees of dementia, primarily Alzheimer's,” says Thalden, a retired architect. It could also include those with traumatic brain injury and other afflictions.

The facility will provide 44 jobs for caregivers, food providers and supervisors, he says.

Chmelir built most of the adjacent Lithia Springs resort and built and supervises Kensington Place in Grants Pass, which was built on the same model as planned in Ashland. The facility has all approvals in place and has been passed on for a needs analysis by the state Department of Human Services. 

The analysis, he said, found the area of the south Bear Creek Valley short by 200 beds for the target population, most of whom are cared for at home until dementia is advanced.

“When the family comes to an Alzheimer's facility,” says Chmelir, “it’s rarely at the onset. It’s when there is little emotional, physical and financial resource left. They are worn out.”

Thalden adds, “Ashland is an aging community. You only have to sit at the Food Co-op and look at the customers. This is a serious, serious issue and we can do something about it.”

The Alzheimer's Association estimates that nearly one in every three seniors who die each year has Alzheimer’s or another dementia.

In Ashland, Chmelir says, many people bring their aging parents here, increasing the demand.

“We haven’t recognized this population,” he says, “because in the past, they died when they got Alzheimer's. It’s a huge challenge for society.”

The new facility will have three wings, each with its own housing, dining and activities.

“It’s not going to be an institution,” he says. “It will be like living at home, sitting by the fire.”

Daily life at Lithia Place will be “heartfelt,” says Chmelir, with activities such as singing, playing cards and ball games, gardening, dining, washing, dressing, resting and meals — the latter important because such elders “lose cues” for hunger, taste and smell and need frequent eating to keep them from withering and becoming weak, thus losing their appetite.

Families will be welcome to visit and share gratis meals.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Barry Thalden, a retired architect living in Ashland, left, and John Chmelir plan to build a memory care facility near the intersection of South Valley View Road Road and Highway 99 in Ashland. Daily Tidings / Jamie Lusch