New Warren County retirement communities include ‘hugging wall’ as latest coronavirus development

A sanitized vinyl wall in which residents can share hugs while guarding against COVID-19 exposure or transmission will be among the amenities at BrightStar Senior Living, one of two multi-million dollar retirement communities new to Warren County.

Shelly Sun, CEO & founder of BrightStar Care as well as BrightStar’s newer retirement community business, said making the walls an amenity at each of their four senior-living facilities came to her after one was commissioned for the company headquarters in Illinois during the pandemic.

“I am a born hugger,” Sun said in a telephone interview. “How do we recreate the experience of hugging in a safe way?”

BrightStar, which already has a home-care franchise called BrightStar Care off Austin Boulevard in Washington Twp., is opening a community offering assisted living and memory care services on U.S. 42 (Reading Road) in Deerfield Twp., Warren County.

Traditions of Lebanon, a $30 million, 18-acre assisted-living development under construction on Neil Armstrong Way on Lebanon’s west side, is the second retirement community built in Warren County by the Indiana-based Leo Brown Group. Independent living, assisted living and memory care services will be available.

Rather than amenities, company President Mike Wagner offered a different perspective.

“We feel that too much focus is spent by others on over-selling amenities versus their care programs and operating philosophies. Before one of our residents moves in or even makes the decision to move in, we are spending several months to over a year in some cases getting to know them, their family and understanding what things we can do to make their transition to their new home as smooth and seamless as possible,” Wagner said in an email.

There is a statistical basis for grown in retirement community development in Warren County.

The Scripps Gerontology Center Ohio Population Interactive Data Center projects the percentage of the county’s population 65 or older, now about 13 percent, is to peak at 20 percent in 2040, even as the statewide percentage is falling.

Both BrightStar and Leo Brown are taking steps to guard against the new virus in their new facilities.

BrightStar Senior Living, which opened Wednesday, will also use questionnaires, hand-washing stations and temperature checks at the 40 to 44-room, 32,00 square foot on 3.2 acres in Deerfield Twp. Like the area home-care franchise, the franchise is held by a local couple, Pat and Kelli Luers.

The value of the four opened so far range for $6.2 million to $10.3 million, depending on land costs and other variables, according to Sun. She said federal regulations prevented her from elaborating.

At Traditions of Lebanon, safety protocols and precautions put together by Leo Brown’s internal COVID-19 task force. “We are constantly keeping abreast of best practices for keeping the virus out of our communities as well as what to do in the event a positive case is identified,” Wagner said in an email response.

A 142-unit building, including 30 for memory care and 13 homes for independent living were approved last year. Construction has begun.

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