Bethany Life in Story City had the privilege of hosting U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Under Secretary Lisa Mensah and her contingent last Tuesday morning (Aug. 16). Mensah was in Iowa to tour four central Iowa communities to observe first hand how recent multi-million dollar USDA funding has greatly improved and expanded health care options as well as created new jobs in the state of Iowa.

Mensah made her first stop of the day at Bethany Life’s facility located at 212 Lafayette Avenue and was greeted by Bethany Life’s CEO Betsy Warburton and Chief Operating Officer Kari Matheason. The Story City long-term and elderly care facility is nearing completion on a major construction project, which used a $22.5 million USDA Rural Development direct loan and $3 million loan guarantee to help with the project.

The expansion and renovation project included demolition of the 1967 building to the north and the construction of two new buildings that will house transitional care and extended care services. Other parts of the Bethany Life facility will also include significant updates and improvements. The project is scheduled to be fully completed by the end of October.

Mensah, who was visiting Iowa for the first time, was excited for the opportunity to visit Story City and the Bethany Life campus:

“For me, this tour of Bethany Life was a chance to see one of our community facilities’ loans in action,” commented Mensah at the conclusion of her Bethany Life tour. “This was about a 24 million dollar project, but it (also) has been a beyond-the-numbers what this project shows; it is a huge change in lives. This is an absolutely powerful model of how to age. And I feel like I just toured a home, not a facility. And that is possible because we came in with the kind of very long term money that helps the private sector to do its work, and helps the beautiful experts I just met. These experts, who have been in this business for 30 years, and what they are able to offer the parents and grandparents of the community, is just (so) powerful! This is how you want to age, if you need to age with help.”

With the construction project almost complete, many of the final touches have been aesthetic in nature, including painting and decorating. Recently, according to Warburton and Martindale, Bethany Life spent over $12,000 in Story City, buying antiques and collectibles from the various antique shops in town, to help give the new building a “touch of home”.

The new building project includes a bistro and bar, multiple outdoor garden areas, including the return of the fish pond, a full therapy gym, out-patient care facilities, a wellness gym, a children’s corner, a new 20-bed long-term care facility (which opened in May), and the Life Bridge area, which is a short-term stay facility.

Accompanying Mensah were members of the State USDA Rural Development office, including Preston Sandstrom, area specialist; Bill Menner, state director; Randy Hildreth, area director; and Darin Leach, public information coordinator.

Feeling fortunate to have a facility such as Bethany Life in a small, rural communtiy like Story City also impressed Mensah:

“One of our jobs in rural development is to explain why, in towns of under 20,000, like Story City, when you anchor a facility like this, it changes and it matters. And when I see things like this, it’s the stories I want to tell throughout the country.”

Other stops on Mensah’s tour of central Iowa included Mid-Iowa Community Action in Marshalltown and Natural Soy in Brooklyn. Her final stop before returning to Washington, D.C. was the Grinnell Regional Medical Center.

Mid-Iowa Community Action was one of 10 rural and tribal communities selected last year to participate in the Rural IMPACT Demonstration, a cross-agency effort to combat poverty and improve upward mobility in rural and tribal places. Natural Soy was one of the communities assisted by the Iowa Foundation of Micro-enterprise and Community Vitality. The Grinnell Medical Center received a rural economic development grant to assist with renovations at the hospital.

Funding from USDA Rural Development has impacted rural communities all across Iowa. Since 2009, the organization has invested more than $4 billion in public facilities, small and expanding businesses, water and sewer systems and housing opportunities for Iowa families. In the past year alone, with the rural development office’s assistance, Iowa has created or retained more than 1,000 jobs, helped 2,400 families in buying a home and assisted more than 60 communities improve facilities and services.

“We are proud to serve the needs of rural people and places to ensure that rural America continues to thrive and to drive the economy,” Mensah added. “We are very happy to be a partner with all the communities we serve as they work hard to make investments that will impact many future generations.”