published Friday, January 11th, 2013

Life Care ready to open Ooltewah rehab center

An exercise courtyard for physical therapy patients is seen at the Life Care Center of Ooltewah, located on Snow Hill Road and scheduled to open in February. The courtyard provides a variety of surfaces as well as a set of steps for patients relearning to walk.
An exercise courtyard for physical therapy patients is seen at the Life Care Center of Ooltewah, located on Snow Hill Road and scheduled to open in February. The courtyard provides a variety of surfaces as well as a set of steps for patients relearning to walk.
Photo by John Rawlston.

Life Care Center of Ooltewah

Owner: Life Care Centers of America

Location: 5911 Snow Hill Road in Ooltewah

Size: 120 beds in a 75,562-square-foot, single story building on 8 acres at Snow Hill and Mountain View Roads.

Amenities: Doctor's suite, three day rooms, activity and workout facilities, beauty shop, spa bathing rooms, private dining room, ice cream shop, library, court yard

Investment: $16 million

Under development: Next to the new rehabilitation facility, a 100-unit assisted living center is being developed by Century Park Associates, another business owned by Life Care Centers CEO Forest L. Preston

Open house

The community may visit the new Life Care of Ooltewah during an open house scheduled from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., on Sunday, Jan. 20

Three years after shuttering an aging nursing home in Orchard Knob, Life Care Centers of America is shifting most of that licensed capacity to a new $16 million rehabilitation facility opening next month in Ooltewah.

"We're opening a beautiful facility at a highly visible site," said Beecher Hunter, president of Life Care Centers of America, the nation's biggest privately owned chain of nursing homes. "Given the proximity of this center to our Cleveland headquarters, it's almost a signature facility for us."

The 120-bed Life Care Center of Ooltewah bears little resemblance to the former 153-bed nursing home on North Highland Park Avenue that Life Care closed in November 2009 after state health inspectors cited the facility for numerous problems. The new Ooltewah center at Snow Hill and Mountain View Roads includes a high-tech rehabilitation gym, courtyards with water fountains and gardens, wood-paneled library, a private dining room with linen-covered tables, a beauty salon and spa and a doctor's suite where an inhouse physician provides medical care.

Life Care is opening the Ooltewah facility next month and has begun recruiting the first of what is expects will eventually be up to 150 employees for the center.

Adjacent to the 75,562-square-foot, single-story nursing home, an affiliate company of Life Care Centers, Century Park Associates, is building a three-story assisted living center with 100 units.

The new Ooltewah nursing home is the fourth new center Life Care Centers has opened in Tennessee in two years. Life Care opened a 108-bed nursing home and rehabilitation facility in January 2011 in Hixson and shortly after added two other centers in Nashville.

Nationwide, Life Care Centers, which celebrates its 43rd anniversary this month, operates 220 nursing homes in 28 states and employs more than 22,000 employees, Hunter said.

Scott Goins, the executive director for the new Ooltewah facility, said workers are putting the finishing touches on the complex and patients should start moving in in three weeks. He hopes to have the facility 60 percent occupied by the end of the year and full within a couple of years similar to Life Care's experience at its new Hixson facility.

"We've tried to create a very welcoming, home-like atmosphere here," he said.

The new director of the Ooltewah complex returned to Life Care Centers, where he previously worked for 10 years, after working for eight years for the 39-unit Grace Healthcare chain in Chattanooga.

"Life Care is kind of like home to me, and the opportunity to be a beautifal facility like this is truly a blessing," he said.

Most patients at the new Ooltewah facility will be on rehabilitation programs for no more than three months. At a similar Life Care Center in Hixson, the average length of stay is 37 days and most patients are covered by Medicare or private insurance plans.

The new gym includes a NASA-developed Ultra G machine that allows patients to gain strength and walking abilities on a low impact treadmill system. The device is similar to an AquaCiser used for rehab, except the Ultra G uses air instead of water so those recovering from surgery or wounds are able to use the machine without risk of infection.

The Ooltewah complex also includes high-tech exercise equipment in its 4,100-square-foot gym, and the facility has diverse walking paths, kitchen and bathroom settings and other environments to help patients learn how to take care of themselves to return to a home or assisted living facility.

Life Care was sued last fall by the federal government for allegedly making Medicare claims for unnecessary therapy services, but the company said it "strongly disagrees with the allegations" and contends that its rehabilitation programs actually save the government money.

Life Care is one of the first companies to use a new Tennessee law to allow for inhouse physician care at a nursing home for patients who opt to get such care from a doctor stationed at the facility. Hunter said having a full-time physician at a center in Florida since 2009 helped has helped to cut the number of patients who must go back to a hospital from 43 percent down to only 8 percent.

"We think it improves care, and is much more convenient for our patients," Hunter said.

The new Ooltewah center is only a few miles from another Life Care facility in Collegedale and the new Century Park assisted living center is within a couple miles of that company's Greenbriar Cove in Ooltewah.

"This is the fastest growing area in this whole region and with the access of I-75 here this facility should attract those needing rehabilitation from a wide area," Goins said.

about Dave Flessner...

Dave Flessner is the business editor for the Times Free Press. A journalist for 35 years, Dave has been business editor and projects editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, city editor for The Chattanooga Times, business and county reporter for the Chattanooga Times, correspondent for the Lansing State Journal and Ingham County News in Michigan, staff writer for the Hastings Daily Tribune in Nebraska, and news director for WCBN-FM in Michigan. Dave, a native ...

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