An innovative, long-term senior care center is one step closer to breaking ground in Aiken, having received state approval of its certificate-of-need application.

CSRA Senior Living Inc. is a nonprofit, locally-organized entity created to own and operate the skilled nursing, rehab, assisted living and dementia care center that will be located on 20 acres of land off Trolley Line Road, across from the athletic fields at USC Aiken.

Last week, the volunteer board's certificate-of-need application and tax-exempt bond financing were approved by the state.

“These approvals allow us to continue preparations for financing and construction in May,” said board chairman John Oakland. “We are excited to be closer to bringing this new model of care to our community.”

The concept of the new facility is that it is a series of “houses” rather than a “nursing home.”

The 12 homes will each house up to 10 residents, and the facility will provide assisted living, a memory support center and a skilled nursing center.

Groundbreaking for the facility is expected in May, with an opening slated for mid-2014.

“Residents will stay in a private room, equipped to provide for more personalized care by licensed professionals,” said Mike Harris, president of Cornerstone Senior Living, which developed and operated the Brandon Wilde Retirement Community in Augusta and is developing the Graniteville project. “Other communities with similar designs have documented higher levels of independence, improved clinical outcomes and higher satisfaction among their residents and higher visitation and satisfaction by family members.”

South Carolina is one of more than 35 states that use a certificate-of-need review, which evaluates whether a proposed service or facility is needed, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The process helps contain health care costs; prevents unnecessary duplication of health care facilities and services, which can drive up costs; guides the establishment of health facilities; and ensures high quality services are provided in those facilities.

Health care providers must obtain the approval before they can build new health care facilities, spend more than $2 million to improve or expand a health care facility or add beds to increase patient capacity.

“It is a lengthy, arduous process,” Harris said, adding that the application was filed with the state in June.

According to Harris, the concept for this radical departure from traditional nursing home care was pioneered more than 10 years ago, and while more than 150 such facilities exist nationwide, this one will be the first of its kind in South Carolina.

“The model itself, the approach, is good for virtually any area of the country. It is a distinctly different way of providing nursing care,” Harris said. “When a visitor or a resident comes through the front door of the nursing home, it doesn't look like, smell like, feel like a nursing home. It feels like you're home.”

At the facility, residents will have the option of their spouses living there, even if the spouse is healthy and doesn't require rehabilitation.

Harris said studies show that the units in the new facility are “just as affordable” as private rooms at other nearby nursing homes.

He added that the facility will eventually be able to provide indigent care once the facility has met its short-term financial obligations.

The facility will begin the hiring process for about 100 permanent employees in roughly one year and has established relationships with nursing training programs at USC Aiken and Aiken Technical College.

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  Teddy Kulmala covers the crime beat for the Aiken Standard. He is a graduate of Clemson University and hails from Williston.