Steve Shields
Steve Shields

When the 17-acre master-planned community Norterre opens by the end of the year next to Liberty Hospital in Liberty, MO, it will serve young families, active adults and seniors.

The first phase of Norterre will debut with accommodations for assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing residents as well as rehabilitation patients; a park for cultural activities; a health and wellness center; retail; child care; and dining. Construction of the second phase is planned to immediately follow, with independent living and non-age-specific housing options as well as more dining and retail.

Housing will follow the Household Model of Action Pact, Norterre’s developer, architect, construction manager and operator. Other partners in the effort include Liberty Hospital and Healthy Living Centers of America.

Steve Shields, CEO and managing partner of Norterre and CEO of Action Pact, recently spoke with McKnight’s Senior Living Senior Editor Lois A. Bowers about the project.

Q: For those who aren’t familiar with Norterre, how would you describe it?

A: Two primary, 30,000-foot-view characteristics make Norterre very unique. One is a multigenerational interconnection that links a set of programs that help people navigate the healthcare continuum seamllessly, to help transition the intent of a healthcare system that treats sickness to one where people can seek and achieve well-being.

Two, all of the common amenity space that normally would be reserved for the people who live in the senior living community — the restaurant, bar, theater, gym, computer lab, library — are part of the commercial and amenity space for the broader community. It’s a first example of a nonsegregated retirement community that also is not just a retirement community.

Q: What was the impetus for the community?

A: Action Pact sought a partnership with a hospital system that wanted to have a broader set of programs in its continuum than has been traditional. So we were coming to the table having short-term-stay households, long-term-stay households, assisted living households, and memory loss assisted living households. And in the process of those dialogues, we sensed a really visionary leader in Liberty Hospital CEO David Feess, who shared our opinion that the senior living piece needed complete reshaping. Our discussions also led to a much broader one about how the silos that are in nursing home care are also present throughout the healthcare continuum. The United States is No. 1 in cost in the civilized world and No. 37 in outcomes. We both agreed that the reason is the disconnectedness of all the components of the system. And because Liberty is a locally based, community-based but very effective system, we began to co-brainstorm about creating a medical fitness and integrated healthcare system along with senior living. And so it all became one project.

Q: Approaches where generations can mix are becoming more common in senior living. Why do you think this is?

A: People in the present generation approaching being old don’t want to live in ghettos. As wonderful as the present model of retirement communities can be — and there are wonderful things about them — it’s still a removal from society. Having a retirement community with a kindergarten is really cool, but it’s still a removal.

In our project, we’ve been careful not to use the word “intergenerational” because what it has come to mean is a senior living program that tries to get other age groups connected but is still segregated.

With a multigenerational approach rather than an intergenerational one, we’re trying to jump on further and say, “This is a complete leap toward people of all ages having life together while still recognizing the very special needs of each individual, regardless of how old they are.”