I have written a number of times about the prevailing senior housing operational philosophy of “let is entertain you until you die.”  That is not the kind of place where I would want to live.  It is not the kind of place where my father would want to live.

  I have written a number of times about the prevailing senior housing operational philosophy of “let is entertain you until you die.”  That is not the kind of place where I would want to live.  It is not the kind of place where my father would want to live.

My father is a retired emergency room physician in his mid 80’s.  His hearing is failing and he knows he is slowing down.  Yet for all of that he is very active.  He lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada on an acre or so.  He still works in and around his yard and in his greenhouse.   He loves the outdoors and is particularly attracted to the desert and the mountains.  He has very little time for television and loves to read, watch over his retirement portfolio follow current events and politics. He would hate living in the traditional, bingo, Bible study and birthday, let us entertain you to death senior housing community.


Serious innovating takes courage and financial resources. David Freshwater and his partner David Barnes have been developing senior housing for more than twenty five years from their home base in Tucson, Arizona. The two partners took their combined development and operational experience and set out to create the next generation senior community in their own backyard. Building on that expertise they cast their nets to include individuals and organizations have a reputation for and serious commitment to improving physical, mental and spiritual wellness. Their newly planned assisted living, memory care and nursing community called The Haciendas at The River is bringing together a design thinking team comprised of researchers, educators, doctors, architects, landscape designers, restaurateurs, therapists and healers. The community being envisioned by Watermark brings together the resources offered by The University of Arizona’s School of Architecture, The Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, the newly formed Institute for Place and Wellbeing as well as the University’s Center on Aging. Dr Andrew Weil, the founder of AZCIM, partner in True Food Kitchens, (an innovative approach to fine, healthy, dining) and well-known wellness author will be central to the design of the gardens that will source much of the food available to residents at Haciendas both in the cafe and in-room. Weil will also take the lead in developing healthy recipes and menu choices. The gardens will be a central element of the design of the environment and will also be available as therapeutic hands-on healing for those residents so inclined. Freshwater has also brought together research specialists like for example Dr. Esther Sternberg, Director of Research for the UofA School of Medicine, to investigate the impact of the environment on healing in hopes this community will be a proving ground for new ideas for elder and rehab care going forward. As to day-to-day care delivery, Watermark is innovating that as well.  It intends to Integrate The Center for Integrative Medicine’s holistic approach with traditional rehab therapies. Innovative treatments such as acupuncture, aquatic programs, massage therapy and equine-facilitated healing will be offered in both the in- and out-patient rehab programs. The equine therapy component will be overseen by Barbara Rector, founder of and consultant to centers for therapeutic riding world-wide. Barbara recently shared a story about a woman who, on her hundredth birthday, decided she wanted to learn to ride having never done so before. She spent the last five years of her life enjoying her horse, Daisy, assisted by a team of therapeutic riding instructors demonstrating that we can realize our dreams at any age.  Freshwater told me he intends that these sorts of breakthroughs will be commonplace at The Haciendas. Design Thinking brings together minds from seemingly disparate fields to look at a specific challenge from those differing points of view. The team that Freshwater and Watermark are assembling is taking the “science” of aging forward into aging well as part of a continuum of living well. Perhaps we are on the threshold of seeing aging integrated back into a life well-lived instead of as an end-stage disease.  Now that’s something I’m sure my Dad can appreciate. During my interview with David Freshwater, the one thing blew me away was his passion for this project.  It is the kind of passion I am not used to seeing in veteran developers and operators.  His passion is a testament to how exciting and different this project is.

Haciendas at the River By The Numbers

  • There will be four 15 bed “haciendas” that will include assisted living, memory care.
  • There will be a 48 bed skilled nursing building that will provide both rehabilitative and long-term care.
  • There will be 7,000 sqft. rehabilitation center that will include traditional, nontraditional and experimental modalities.
  • There will be a separate medical office building on the campus allowing regular easy physician visits and “house calls.”.
  • The community will sit on a 7.5 Acre campus on the edge of town providing space for the equestrian center and trails, gardens and extensive walking paths.
  • Finally all or essentially all of the services will be available to the public creating more of a community-based intergeneration to senior living.
  • Construction will begin in September 2013 and will begin taking residents about 12 months later.

We will do a follow-up story with the community opens. Link: October 12, 2012 press release. Steve Moran

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