The approximately 378,000-square foot, 300-unit senior citizen Continuing Care Resident Community (CCRC) known as Woodland Pond in New Paltz, located on an 83-acre parcel off North Putt Corners Road in the village, is approaching the second-year anniversary of its grand opening and first occupancies. After an almost eight-year conceptual and formal site plan review, with multiple revisions, public hearings and court filings by local grassroots environmental groups, Woodland Pond received final site plan approval, negotiated with Save the Woods and Wetlands, dedicated approximately 63 acres of land to become part of the proposed Millbrook Greenway and opened its doors in October of 2009.
While the not-for-profit CCRC, managed by Health Alliance, hired an interim director to get the ball rolling, it hired a permanent executive director, Jack Ritchie of Westchester, in October of 2010.
Ritchie explained that he had been involved with senior housing and CCRCs for most of his postgraduate life. “I’ve worked in the senior housing business on various levels, including CCRCs, assisted living facilities, local, independent nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities and various combinations of those services for most of my career,” he said.
Ritchie, who was on the staff of the University of Nebraska, where he received his PhD, was asked by a friend of his father’s who was in the senior-living line of work in Philadelphia to “come work with him.” “It wasn’t an aspiration of mine [to go into this particular field], but it developed into a relationship and a career that I have greatly enjoyed and continue to enjoy.”
Asked what has kept him in this field, and more specifically what attracted him to Woodland Pond, Ritchie reflected and then said, “Seeing people who have put their life’s earnings into a CCRC facility and are happy, able to experience a full life, expand their horizons, meet new people, get involved in activities they’ve enjoyed all of their lives and then engage in new activities. That’s what makes me come to my job every day excited: going to our Happy Hour here and seeing the lively banter and debates and relationships that evolve in a facility like this.”
Otherwise, he said, “It would just be a job that you go to, do your work and go home. What would be the incentive? The incentive is all around me, with these incredible individuals who have entrusted their life savings, their quality of life and their health with us. That’s an enormous responsibility, and one that I take very seriously.”
Being the director of Woodland Pond is a challenge, and one that Ritchie enjoys. Currently the facility — which was planned for, designed and proposed during better economic times — has 142 of its 201 apartments and cottages occupied. In its 40-bed skilled nursing facility it has 35 individuals, 13 out of 20 available “Memory Care” apartments for those who suffer from Alzheimer’s and/or dementia, as well as eight residents in its 40-unit assisted living apartments.
The great recession has impacted every facet of the housing market, and this CCRC no less. “Our goal is to have all of our available units, apartments and cottages filled within the next year,” said Ritchie. “We’re marketing toward a younger clientele, as we have an incredible fitness center, a pool, all kinds of activities and programs geared toward those that are younger: active, able seniors as well as those who are older and maybe less able. Woodland Pond and its programming staff work very hard to ensure that there are a plethora of activities, events, classes, fitness, arts and entertainment for all of our residents.”
While trying to market toward a younger group, Ritchie was quick to say, “We’re still primarily focused on the people that live and make up this dynamic community of Woodland Pond. The average age is 80 to 82, and they are highly educated, well-traveled, unique individuals. It’s New Paltz!” he said with a laugh. “There is never a shortage of opinions, suggestions, differences and ultimately a very active, engaged group of residents.”
He said that when he was first hired, one thing that he heard over and over again from residents was that they did “not want a formal-dress” dining requirement. “Apparently, my predecessor had set one night aside at the dining hall that was to be for ‘formal attire.’ Well, that did not go over well with this community of people!”