Like most issues about which I post, the topic of “Finding A Good Death” arose from a personal connection. In this case when a neighbor consulted me about his sister who was being referred to hospice care after battling cancer. While not an expert in hospice care, I have long studied seniors housing and care and, for a time, I followed the publicly traded hospice companies as a stock analyst. I also have some personal experience with hospice care. My older brother (only four years my senior) utilized hospice care before his death in late 2014 from a degenerative neurological condition. To supplement my own knowledge for this blog post, I interviewed a friend and neighbor who is a long-time bereavement counselor volunteer at a large not-for-profit hospice in Baltimore and researched the topic on line.
John McCain’s death, which appeared to come quickly surrounded by friends and family after the Senator elected hospice care, also makes the subject of Finding A Good Death very relevant.
Even though we all die eventually, talking about death and planning for death, beyond making funeral arrangements, are taboo subjects for most Americans. We are culturally geared to want to live as long as possible and most physicians and patients have a strong bias toward utilizing the most expensive, invasive and technologically advanced medical procedures to prolong life, viewing death as failure rather than an inevitable part of the life cycle.
According to data from the Social Security Administration:
- A man age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 84.3.
- A woman age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 86.7.
About one out of every four 65-year-olds today will live past age 90, one out of 10 will live past age 95; and longevity estimates for 65 year olds continue to rise. Also, these statistics are averages for the entire population, so healthy non-smokers and those with better health plans and medical care should expect to live longer. Once you reach 65, I would argue you already have a very good chance of living a long life and you and your family should be more concerned with the quality rather than quantity of the remaining life you lead, and with the quality of your death, the focus of this post.
A good death is generally understood to be one that comes quickly and peacefully and with minimal pain and suffering, ideally at home and with an opportunity for loved ones to say their goodbyes.
English physician Dame Cicely Saunders first applied the term “hospice” to specialized care for dying patients in the UK in 1948. Hospice care was introduced to the U.S, in the mid-60s and did not become a Medicare eligible benefit until 1982. History of hospice care
As defined by Medicare, hospice is a program of care and support for people who are terminally ill (with a life expectancy of 6 months or less if the illness runs its normal course) and their families. Hospice helps people who are terminally ill live comfortably.
- The focus is on comfort (palliative care), not on curing an illness.
- A specially trained team of professionals and caregivers provide care for the “whole person,” including physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs.
- Services typically include physical care, counseling, medications for relief of pain and suffering, medical equipment, and supplies for the terminal illness and related conditions. Things like diapers are not covered by Medicare although catheters are. Patients and their families should not expect 24/7 physical care from hospice unless the patient is receiving inpatient care. Home health aides can be provided for bathing, etc. but cannot provide total care.
- Care is generally given in the home.
- Family caregivers can get support.
In order to qualify for Medicare’s hospice benefit, you must participate in Medicare Part A and
- Your hospice doctor and your regular doctor (if you have one) certify that you’re terminally ill (you’re expected to live 6 months or less).
- You accept palliative care (for comfort) instead of care to cure your illness.
- You sign a statement choosing hospice care instead of other Medicare-covered treatments for your terminal illness and related conditions.
Medicare will cover the cost of a one-time hospice consultation even if you decide not to elect hospice care. Once you elect hospice care, the first step in the process is development of an individualized care plan. Original Medicare will cover everything you need related to your terminal illness, but the care you get must be from a Medicare-approved hospice provider.
Hospice care is usually given in your home, but it also may be covered in a senior housing community, a nursing home or a specialized hospice inpatient facility. Depending on your terminal illness and related conditions, the plan of care your hospice team creates can include any or all of these services:
- Doctor services
- Nursing care
- Medical equipment (like wheelchairs or walkers)
- Medical supplies (like bandages and catheters)
- Prescription drugs
- Hospice aide and limited homemaker services. At Gilchrist, a large not-for-profit Baltimore area hospice, a volunteer may do light housekeeping but that is all
- Physical and occupational therapy
- Speech-language pathology services
- Social worker services
- Dietary counseling
- Grief and loss counseling for you and your family
- Short-term inpatient care (for pain and symptom management)
- Short-term respite care
- Any other Medicare-covered services needed to manage your terminal illness and related conditions, as recommended by your hospice team.
Note that the above list does not include the cost of room and board in a seniors housing or skilled nursing facility, so the patient or their family may have to cover this cost if routine hospice care cannot be provided at home.
If your usual caregiver (a family member or other caregiver) needs rest, a hospice patient can get inpatient respite care in a Medicare-approved facility (such as a hospice inpatient facility, hospital, or nursing home). Your hospice provider will arrange this for you. You can stay up to 5 days each time you get respite care. You can get respite care more than once, but only on an occasional basis.
Medicare pays the hospice provider for your hospice care. There’s no deductible. You’ll pay:
- Your monthly Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) premiums.
- A copayment of up to $5 per prescription for outpatient prescription drugs for pain and symptom management.
- 5% of the Medicare-approved amount for inpatient respite care if used.
Medicare won’t cover any of these once your hospice benefit starts:
- Treatment intended to cure your terminal illness and/or related conditions. Talk with your doctor if you’re thinking about getting treatment to cure your illness. You always have the right to stop hospice care at any time.
- Prescription drugs (except for symptom control or pain relief).
- Care from any provider that wasn’t set up by the hospice medical team. You must get hospice care from the hospice provider you chose. All care that you get for your terminal illness and related conditions must be given by or arranged by the hospice team. You can’t get the same type of hospice care from a different hospice, unless you change your hospice provider. However, you can still see your regular doctor or nurse practitioner if you’ve chosen him or her to be the attending medical professional who helps supervise your hospice care.
- Room and board. Medicare doesn’t cover room and board. However, if the hospice team determines that you need short-term inpatient or respite care services that they arrange, Medicare will cover your stay in the facility. You may have to pay a small copayment for the respite stay.
- Care you get as a hospital outpatient (such as in an emergency room), care you get as a hospital inpatient, or ambulance transportation, unless it’s either arranged by your hospice team or is unrelated to your terminal illness and related condition.
The Medicare hospice benefit is paid by original fee-for-service Medicare. To understand how the hospice benefit relates to Medicare Advantage plan, Part B or D coverage speak with Medicare or your hospice provider and you might consult the publication Medicare Hospice Benefits – Medicare Hospice Benefits
A Popular Benefit
Hospice care enjoys wide support from patients and patient advocates who are supportive of patients dying with dignity and having control over the final chapter of their lives. It is supported by policy makers who believe hospice can save Medicare funds by having terminally ill patients avoid expensive procedures at the end of life that often provide little lasting benefit. Mean medical spending during the last 12 months of life is reaching $80,000 in the U.S., with 44.2% spending for hospital care (57.6% is hospital spending during the final three months of life). To the extent hospice care can reduce expensive end of life hospital care it has the potential to reduce growth in Medicare spending. Hospice Impact On Medical Spending
Hospice care is also viewed favorably by investors and for-profit healthcare companies who see it offering stable reimbursement, attractive margins and very attractive growth prospects as Baby Boomers age. Because hospice reimbursement is designed to adequately fund small not-for-profit hospice providers, not-for-profit and for-profit operators with scale can generate an excess revenue/profits from spreading their overhead costs over a large number of patients, thereby generating reasonable margins from hospice reimbursement.
Electing Hospice Care
The key issue for patients and their families in electing hospice care is that doing so requires you to forgo additional curative treatment for the condition that is expected to lead to your death in order to receive funding for palliative care designed to give you a dignified death with minimal pain and suffering. As noted above, In order to qualify for hospice care a physician, typically your primary care doctor or a hospice doctor, certifies that you are expected to live no more than six months if your disease follows its typical progression. With this physician’s certification and your election to shift from curative to hospice/palliative care you will qualify for Medicare hospice benefits or hospice benefits from a private insurer. If you live more than six months in hospice care, the hospice benefit can be extended but Medicare manages this by penalizing operators that have average length of stays in hospice care.
Selecting A Hospice Provider
According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) Medicare paid about 4,200 different hospice providers for services in 2015. About 60% of these hospice providers were profit-making companies and 40% are not-for-profit (Long-Term Care Providers and Services Users in the United States: Data From the National Study of Long-Term Care Providers, 2013–2014 Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control, Center for Health Statistics, February 2016 – CDC Report On Hospice Services
Hospice providers served approximately 1.3 million patients in 2013 with an average length of stay of 23 days – indicating an average daily census of about 14 patients per hospice.
The statistics above suggest two criteria for selecting a hospice provider 1) for-profit vs. not-for-profit and size. Many hospice providers are small not- for-profit operations. For-profit companies tend to be larger in size, as are some well established not-for-profit organizations, such as Gilchrist Hospice in Baltimore. Smaller operations may offer more personalized care options but larger operations may have their own specially designed dedicated inpatient hospice units and greater resources to Invest in family grief counseling, for example.
Your physician or a social worker/discharge planner at a hospital should be able to recommend or refer you to one or more hospice providers. A simple online search on “finding a hospice provider” results in links to larger for-profit and not-for-profit providers in your area (Heartland, Amedysis and Gilchrist in Baltimore) and links to referral services, such as A Place for Mom, an Internet focused senior housing and care referral company, and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO). Keep in mind that referral services will only refer you to organizations that are members of that organization or agree to pay a referral fee.
The Medicare.gov/hospice compare website provides ratings for hospice providers with percentage scores for a number of objective and subjective measures including results from user surveys. The site allows you to search for specific providers and provides near particular zip codes. See Medicare Hospice Compare. Some of this data is likely self-reported but still appears useful for comparing providers.
Before committing to a particular hospice provider a prospective patient and their family should ideally meet with the provider to assess the staff who will oversee and deliver care to your loved one, share information about your family’s situation and discuss options for delivering hospice care in a way that best meets your families needs. Care will most likely be delivered at home with family members engaged in the hospice care delivery process. It can also be provided in a seniors housing or skilled nursing facility but this may require the family to pay for the coast of board. If required, typically right at the end of life when 24/7 oversight is needed, the location of care may be shifted to an inpatient hospice care facility and you should understand when and how such a facility might be used. You may wish to check on the location and quality of the inpatient option.
I welcome comments and questions on this blog and hope it aids you finding a good death for you and your loved ones.
It has been several months since I updated my blog because I have gotten busy serving on the Board of Quality Care Properties (QCP) and with some consulting work. I am also just back from a vacation in Costa Rica about which I hope to soon do a post.
An article in today’s (January 23, 2018) Wall Street Journal prompted me to do this post. The WSJ article is entitled “How Immigration Could Affect Grandma’s Care” and is in the “Capital Journal” commentary by Gerald F. Seib. Key points include:
- American is getting older. A fifth of the population will be over 65 by 2050 and 4% will be over 85, both records in terms of absolute numbers and as a percentage of the population.
- A study by PHI, an organization that works with the long term care and home care industry, estimates there are 860,000 immigrants holding “direct care” giving jobs in senior care and perhaps as many as one million when workers providing care independently for families are included.
- The largest share of these workers come from Mexico, the Philippines, Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic; the very countries in the crosshairs of the immigration debate.
- Restrictions on immigration may drive up wages for what are often low paying jobs providing direct care to seniors and this may draw more people into the industry.
- But forcing dedicated, qualified people from other countries to leave, many of who have lived in the U.S. for years, will be a blow to many including seniors who rely on these immigrants for care.
As you consider you position on immigration policy, you should also consider who will care for your parents and eventually yourself and your peers as you age.
Most seniors and their families see the monthly cost of a senior housing facility as much higher than the monthly cost of living at home with family care, or even with part-time or full-time home healthcare. But the math that most seniors and families use to make this comparison assumes no implied cost for occupying a home without a mortgage, much less paid care than is provided in a seniors housing facility and places no value on the companionship and social interaction that a seniors housing community can provide.
This analysis, using data from a variety of sources, attempts to make a fair apples-to-apples comparison, before and after taxes, of the cost for a senior living at-home without care, living at-home with a modest amount of paid care and living in an independent living, assisted living or memory care facility.
The chart below shows the comparison on a pre-tax basis of living at home with a modest level of care to the cost of various types of seniors housing communities. Bottom Line – The cost of living in a $150,000 home with even a modest level of home healthcare can easily exceed the cost of an independent living community and approaches the cost of assisted living. In addition, a senior living at home with part-time care does not get the companionship and social interaction that a seniors housing community can provide and which many studies show are beneficial for a senior’s mental acuity and well being.
Please read below for details and I welcome your comments and questions.
THE COST OF A SENIOR HOUSING COMMUNITY
The cost of various seniors housing settings is easy for seniors and their families to see because most facilities charge a monthly fee for housing and care. The average monthly cost for this care according to a recent survey by the National Investment Center for the Senior Housing and Care Industry (NIC) is as follows:
- Independent Living – $3,076 per month
- Assisted Living – $4,722 per month
- Memory Care – $6,082 per month
To these costs, we need to add some additional expenses for a senior living in a seniors housing community for social and entertainment activities, transportation and non-housing living expenses. I have estimated these at half the estimated cost of someone living at home based on data from the “A Place for Mom.com” website, at a total of $475 per month. I assume half the cost of a senior living at home for someone living in seniors housing because many of these services are provided in a typical seniors housing facility and are included in the monthly rate. I add another $183 per month for a senior living in a seniors housing community for utilities, cable television, wifi and phone and renters insurance. Adding a combined $658 per month for things like phone, cable TV, some outside meals, transportation and other living expenses to the monthly fee for seniors housing communities brings the total monthly cost for living in senior housing rounded to the nearest $100 to:
- Independent Living – $3,700 per month
- Assisted Living – $5,400 per month
- Memory Care – $6,700 per month
AT HOME LIVING AND HOME OPERATING COSTS
When the total monthly cost for senior housing and care at the above settings are compared to the out-of-pocket costs for a senior living in a $150,000 home without a mortgage they certainly appear formidable. A Place for Mom estimates the monthly out-of-pocket cost for a average senior living at home (in a home we assume is worth about $150,000) without a mortgage to be approximately $2,400, broken down as follows.
|Utilities including phone and cable||$265|
|Three meals per day||$494|
|Emergency alarm system||$50|
|Social and entertainment||$235|
It is this $2,400 figure (or something lower because the senior in question has curtailed her social, entertainment and transportation expenses) that most seniors and their families compare to the $3,700 to $6,700 monthly cost of facility-based senior housing and care. Therefore, seniors and their families generally see facility-based care as 50% to 275% more expensive than having a senior live at home.
But the above comparison ignores the value of the house in which a senior is living and ignores the cost of caregiving and the socialization benefits that a senior would receive if she were living in a seniors housing facility. Let’s deal with each of these separately.
ESTIMATED HOUSING COSTS FOR $150,000 HOME
To account for the value of the home itself, I estimate implied rent (essentially an estimate of the amount you could earn from renting the house) using a 7% cap rate on the assumed $150,000 value of the home, at $875 per month ($150,000 x .07 / 12), which seems very modest for many U.S. housing markets.
When you combine the above monthly costs for home maintenance, taxes and operation and living expenses of $2,400 per month with the implied rent, we get an estimated monthly housing and living cost for a senior living in a $150,000 home of $3,275 (approximately $2,400 for living and home operational expenses, plus $875 in implied rent).
From the above analysis you can see that the cost of living expenses, home maintenance and operation and implied rent/housing costs for a senior living on one’s own $150,000 home, calculated in what I believe is a conservative fashion, is nearly 90% of the average cost of a senior living in an independent living facility. And in the independent living facility the senior is getting much more interaction with other people, much more socialization and mental stimulation than most seniors get when living at home alone.
ESTIMATED HOUSING COSTS FOR $500,000 CONDOMINIUM
Doing the same math for a senior living in a $500,000 condominium yields estimated monthly living and home operating expenses of $4,449 broken down as follows:
|Utilities including phone and cable||$165|
|Three meals per day||$494|
|Emergency alarm system||$50|
|Social and entertainment||$235|
The implied rent calculation for a $500,000 condo is $2,917 per month ($500,000 x 7% / 12). Combining monthly living and home operating expenses with the implied rent for a $500,000 condo indicates a total monthly cost of living at home, including implied rent, without care at approximately $7,400.
When the above figure is compared to the cost of seniors housing, you can see that the estimated monthly cost of a senior living in a $500,000 condo is almost twice the cost of independent living and 36% higher than the cost of assisted living. You can argue that comparing the cost of a $500,000 condo with the average cost of seniors housing is an unfair comparison because these facilities would cost more in an expensive real estate market. But I believe the calculation on a $500,000 condo is fair for the Baltimore market, where I Iive, and I believe it is fair to say that when a true apples-to-apples comparison of housing, home operation and living costs for senior is made to the cost of living in a seniors housing facility, the difference is smaller than most seniors and families realize before even taking into account the cost of care.
HOME CARE COSTS
From the above analysis, we see that the cost of a senior remaining at home is less than the cost of any type of seniors housing community, even independent living, for a senior in a modest $150,000 home. However, as soon as any degree of paid home healthcare is provided the cost advantages of living at home disappear.
According to A Place For Mom and other surveys conducted by insurance companies offering long term care insurance, the cost of in-home care ranges from $14 – $24 per hour. Certainly at the lower end of this range we are talking about a companion or an aid, not a trained nursing. If you assume only four hours of care per day and only five days per week with family providing care on weekend, the monthly cost of this much home healthcare would range from $1,120 ($14 x 4 hours x 5 days x 4 weeks) to $1,920 per month ($24 x 4 hours x 5 days x 4 weeks). If we use the average of these two figures, the monthly cost for four hours of home healthcare five days a week is $1,520.
When you add the cost of four hours of home care during the week to the cost of housing noted above, the monthly cost of housing plus a modest level of home health would be approximately:
No cost is assumed for family care on weekends.
As the chart at the beginning of this post indicates, as soon as a modest level of home care, in this case four hours per day five days a week, is added to the cost of a home, home operation and living expenses, the cost of living at home with home care, even for a modestly priced home, easily exceeds the cost of independent living and is nearly 90% of the cost of an assisted living facility.
In general terms, healthcare costs exceeding 7.5% of income of a senior’s income are deductible. This includes long term care costs if the senior is chronically ill and is is being cared for pursuant to a plan of care prescribed by a licensed health care practitioner.
If a family member younger than age 65 is paying for care, healthcare costs exceeding 10% of the income of the family member paying for care are deductible. This can apply to home care prescribed by a licensed health care practitioner but not a senior’s housing costs while living at home.
In a seniors housing facility the cost of healthcare provided in assisted living or a memory care facility that exceeds 7.5% of income may be deductible if required by a senior’s medical condition and it is possible that the full cost of facility-based care including housing component may be deductible if living in such a facility is considered essential for medical reasons. See IRS Publication 502 https://www.irs.gov/publications/p502/ar02.html for more information and consult with an accounting professional for more complete information.
AVAILABILITY OF GOVERNMENT ASSISTANCE
While many people believe it does, Medicare does not pay for long-term custodial care at home or in a seniors housing facility. It may pay for short-term home health, therapy or nursing care at-home or in a facility if is prescribed by a physician in response to a particular medical need.
Medicaid will pay for long-term custodial care in skilled nursing facility but only after all other resources are exhausted. Some states have waiver programs that allow Medicaid to be used for assisted living and memory care or at-home community-based care, but as is the case with nursing home care, Medicaid will pay only after all other resources are exhausted. In addition, the last proposed Republican repeal and replace of the Affordable Care Act included significant cuts to Medicaid that could potentially reduce the availability of Medicaid funds for long term care for seniors.
Veteran’s benefits include increased Veteran’s Aids and Attendance Pensions payment for care in a seniors housing or long term care facility under certain circumstances and seniors who qualify for Veteran’s benefits should investigate this option.
Raw Cost of Care
The chart below shows the average monthly cost of care for skilled nursing (nursing home), memory care (dementia), assisted living and independent living facilities in the Baltimore/Washington region for 2015. It also shows the cost for 24 hour / 7 day a week home health aide care and 24/7 home health aide care supplemented by 7 hours each week of registered nursing (RN) and licensed practical nursing (LPN) care in an attempt to replicate the level of care an individual might receive in an assisted living or skilled nursing facility.
The monthly cost in 2015 of facility-based care in the Baltimore/Washington region ranges from $2,912 in an independent living facility to $5,659 in a one bedroom unit in an assisted living facility to $6,234 in a memory care facility, and $9,990 to $11,270 for care in a skilled nursing facility (nursing home) in either a semi-private or private room. For a resident needing assistance with three or more activities of daily living (bathing, transferring, etc.), or with any significant degree of dementia, an independently living facility would probably not provide adequate care without supplemental home healthcare, so the effective range for the monthly cost of care for a senior needing a moderate to significant level of assistance in a specialized seniors housing and care facility in the Baltimore/Washington region in 2015 was $5,659 to $11,270.
To see description of the various types of senior housing and care facilities see my page Senior Housing Options http://wp.me/P64zBK-w.
Home health aides cost $21.73 per hour in 2015, and would cost $14,603 monthly if provided on a 24/7 basis assuming no differential for night shifts. A licensed practical nurse was $53.94 per hour and a registered nursing was $77.88 per hour. In the above example, I assumed an hour a day of both LPN and RN care in addition to 24/7 home health aide care to estimate the monthly cost of care equivalent to that delivered in a skilled nursing facility to be approximately $18,294 per month. Many families care for seniors with a combination of care by family members supplemented with limited time by home health aides or other paid caregivers. While this type of arrangement can result in lower cost than facility-based care, it is clear that the cost to provide 24/7 aid and nursing care at home far exceeds the cost of obtaining such care in an assisted living, memory care or skilled nursing facility. Even when less than 24/7 paid care is provided the cost of facility-based vs. home care is often closer than families expect once the cost of utilies, home upkeep and forgone rent or sales proceeds are considered.
The other big advantage to facility-based care over 24/7 home care, even if you can afford it, that I believe many families overlook, is socialization. Seniors being treated at home, even by the most dedicated family caregivers and aides, spend a lot of time isolated from human interaction. At well-run senior housing and care facilities, interaction among the residents and between residents a diverse group of staff provide more interpersonal and intellectual interaction and stimulation than can be achieved at home, which can be very important for a seniors’ mental health and emotional well being.
Planning For The Future Cost of Care
If the raw cost of care and learning that the government will not help you pay for it (See prior post “The Government Will Not Pay For You Long Term Care”) are not sobering enough, seniors and families trying to plan for long term care need to understand the probability of needing such care, the likely duration of such care, and its future cost. I hope to explore these issues more fully in a future post on long term care insurance and other financing options. But to illustrate the future cost of care for planning purposes here, I have assumed an average length of stay (LOS) for skilled nursing and assisted living care of 24 month, 36 months in memory care and 39 months in independent living. I have then assumed 2.5% inflation for 35 years because the average entry age in to an assisted living or skilled nursing facility is about 85 and the time many people start seriously considering long term care insurance is age 50.
In the table above, the average monthly costs for 2015 in the Baltimore/Washington Region are mutiplied by an assumed LOS in months to get the cost for an expected episode of care. The future value of this expected episode of care is then calculated for 2050 assuming you are thinking about this today at age 50 and planning for costs when you are 85 and are more likely to enter an assisted living or skilled nursing facility. The LOS assumed above are averages and at two years probably a bit high for long-stay custodial skilled nursing care. The average LOS are about right for assisted living and independent living based on actual turnover rates in buildings today. I did not find good data on memory care facility LOS but it is widely recognized to be higher than assisted living because some residents enter at younger ages with early onset Alzheimers and are in better physical condition. When planning for an individual’s need to finance long term care it may be appropriate to plan for longer or shorter lengths of stays and look at the probabities of these but I believe these averages are useful to illustrate the order of magnitude of possible future long term care costs.
I assume 2.5% inflation to estimate the future cost of long term care. The 2.5% inflation factor is about where costs have been increasing in recent years but with increasing wage pressure and inflation expectations higher now that Donald Trump is President-elect, other higher inflation assumptions may be appropriate.
The bottom line is that a 50 year old today might reasonably plan for between $300,000 and $600,000 of long term care costs (an average of $516,483 for AL through private room skilled nursing) and expected to spend this amount over a two – three year period beginning around 2050.
New York Life, which is a long term care insurance provider affiliated with AARP, has an online cost of care calculator that is updated annually. New York Life’s 2015 Cost of Care Survey was designed and implemented by Long-Term Care Group (LTCG), the nation’s leader in long-term care administration services. Each year LTCG surveys thousands of Skilled Nursing Home, Home Health Care and Assisted Living Facility providers to collect cost of care data. The cost of care averages are calculated from over 30,000 different providers at the national, state and metropolitan statistical area level. Other cost of care calculators, including one from Genworth Financial, are also available online.
The figures above are for the Washington / Baltimore Region and are somewhat higher than the national average. I supplemented and verified the LTCG survey data with information from the National Investment Center for the Seniors Housing and Care Industry’s NIC-MAP database, which surveys seniors housing and nursing care properties on a quarterly basis (see http://www.nic.org). I used NIC-MAP data for the Baltimore region, which shows the cost for skilled nursing facility care and care in an assisted living facility 7% – 8% lower than the LTCG survey but similar enough to confirm the LTCG survey data. NIC-MAP is also able to provide pricing data for independent living and memory care / dementia facilities, which I incorporated in my analysis.
On Monday June 6, 2016, The “Ask Encore” column by Glenn Ruffenach in the Wall Street Journal responded to a question from a reader about “what features, at a minimum, should be added to our current home or incorporated in a new home so that we can stay in our home as we get older.” The columnist’s response identified three resources to make a home accessible and adaptable for seniors. These included:
- “Housing America’s Older Adults: Meeting the Needs of an Aging Population” by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, July 2015.
- “Aging-in-Place Remodeling Checklist” by the National Association of Homebuilders
- “HomeFit Guide” by AARP
These all appear to be useful resources and the Wall Street Journal column cites the Harvard Study as saying five features, in particular, that make for safe and acceptable homes are: no-step entries; single-floor living; switches and outlets reachable at any height; extra-wide hallways and doors and lever-style door and faucet handles. The Harvard Study indicates that 90% of existing homes have one of these features but that only 57% have more than one.
Research (AARP United States of Aging Survey, 2012) indicates that 90% of seniors would prefer to stay in their own home vs. moving to a seniors housing community and I have no doubt that for some seniors making adaptations to an existing home or buying a new home with adaptable feature may allow them to defer a move to seniors housing for some period of time. However, because of most seniors’ strong bias toward staying in an existing home, I see far too many seniors resisting a move to seniors housing even when this would be more beneficial for their health, their finances and their families.
I believe it is important for a senior and her or his family to also consider other issues when considering whether to modify an existing home vs. moving to a seniors housing community. Chief among these are (1) the location of one’s existing home, (2) the age and medical conditions of the residents, (3) access to companions and support services, and (4) the cost of maintaining a home. The key points I want to make are:
- seniors and their families need to think through how making accessibility improvements to a home will meet a senior’s physical and mental health needs over time, not just at a single point in time, and
- staying vs. moving should be considered in light of the full occupancy and care costs for each alternative.
Location is important for the resident, her or his family and other formal or informal caregivers. Too often, seniors of advancing age become increasingly isolated in their homes because they are not located where public transportation, taxi or Uber-like services are readily available. If this is the case, as a senior’s ability to drive diminishes, which it invariably does, a senior’s ability to visit friends, see medical professionals, attend social, educational and civic events will be restricted with negative implications for their physical and mental health. If they are living alone, studies have show poor diet and social isolation can take a heavy toll. Technology may be able to reduce these isolating effects in the future but is not yet able to overcome all the location issues noted here.
Location is also important for family members and other formal and informal caregivers. If you live hundreds of miles from your children or if your home is not readily accessible in good and bad weather to formal and informal caregivers, a home modified to be accessible for a senior may still prove unable to meet a senior’s needs over time as their physical or mental health deteriorates and caregivers are needed.
Age and Medical Condition
The age and medical condition of residents is also important to consider when thinking about whether to modify one’s home or move to a retirement community. Physical limitations, such as needing a walker, shower grab bars, lever door handles can help extend the ability of an existing home to accommodate a senior. But, if a senior is 85 or older or has medical conditions that will escalate over time, the benefit of these types of improvements may be short lived and fully modifying a home for a wheelchair equipped senior – completely flat floors, wider doorways, larger baths with turning radius for a wheelchair can get very expensive. In addition, if a senior has early signs of dementia, this condition too is likely to deteriorate over time and may require a more secure setting with full time care at some point, which an individual’s home cannot provide.
Access to Companions and Support Services
The cost to bring qualified caregivers and other support services into one home can quickly exceed the cost of a seniors housing community if care is required on a 24/7 basis. It can also be difficult for a senior or their family to manage care and home maintenance services and to monitor the quality of care delivered in a senior’s home, particularly if the family does not live nearby. The availability of qualified caregivers varies with geography, with access to public transportation and with population density tending to improve the availability of care.
Cost of Maintaining A Home
When comparing the costs of staying in one’s home vs. moving to a senior housing community, seniors and their families too often view the cost of staying in one’s home as only including the cost of making accessibility modifications and do not fully consider the cost of part-time or full-item care, the cost of taxes and maintenance, or the income that can be generated from investing proceeds from the sale of a home. This sticker shock of a $2,500 to $6,000 per month fee for seniors housing may seem a lot less daunting when one makes a accurate assessment of the costs of staying at home. It is also important to understand that the average length of stay for an 85 + senior in assisted living is about two years, so $150,000 in home sales proceeds is usually sufficient to fund an average stay.
There is some additional discussion of housing options and issues to consider when moving to seniors housing on this blog www.robustretirement.com. The American Seniors Housing Association also has a new website Where You Live Matters with a lot of information for seniors considering whether to stay in their existing homes or move to a retirement community, including cost calculators. Specific posts on this website that may be of interest include:
- UnSenior “Seniors Housing” – April 2016
- Confessions of a Recent CCRC Mover – March 2016
- Finding Happiness In Seniors Housing – August 2015
On Tuesday, May 17, 2015 I was featured in a question and answer session over breakfast with subscribers of Senior Care Investor, moderated by its editor Steve Monroe. We covered a wide range of topics. I summarize below key takeaways from my Senior Care Investor interview and provide a link to the nearly one hour webcast.
The public markets are much less important for seniors housing and post-acute care than they were twenty years ago when there were as many as 30 public companies including operators and health care REITs. If you review the investment history of seniors housing and post-acute care there have been a number of “pivot points” where stocks in these sectors experienced significant sell offs and then rebounded strongly. These pivot point were driven by overbuilding and reimbursement and operating problems that in some cases led to operator bankruptcies. If you got the timing right, these pivot points provided very attractive investment opportunities in the stocks of private pay senior housing operators, post-acute care operators and health care REITs, with the stocks within each of these industry groups moving on somewhat different events and at somewhat different times.
I see current industry conditions again creating pivot points for investments in senior housing, post-acute care and health care real estate and believe it is the right time for investors to be studying these sectors and deciding when it makes sense to invest.
Private-Pay Seniors Housing – Overbuilding, few publicly traded investment options and operating issues at the largest publicly traded operator, Brookdale Senior Living, Inc. (BKD), have caused most public market institutional investors to flee the private-pay seniors housing space. I don’t see a quick pivot in private-pay seniors housing because capital remains plentiful for new construction, underlying demand from older seniors (80+) is slower than it was before 2010 (see Slow 80+ Pop Growth, Elevated Construction Spark Concern For Seniors Housing on this blog), and issues at Brookdale will take some time to resolve. I also believe private equity investors will await a more receptive market before bringing other quality operators public.
Post-Acute Care – Post-acute care currently has more publicly traded operators with scale than private-pay seniors housing, but deteriorating operating fundamentals and high leverage have also driven public market institutional investors away from publicly-traded post-acute care operators. Major REITs, such as Ventas (VTR) and HCP (HCP) spinning off skilled nursing assets has underlined the risks investors see in this space. Increased use of Medicare and Medicaid managed care and ever expanding use of bundled payments are reducing lengths of stay (LOS), pressuring post-acute care rates and volumes and eroding operator revenue and EBITDA. However, because baby boomers are now beginning to turn 70, the pool of post-acute care patients should grow dramatically over the next 5 – 10 years while the supply of post-acute care facilities and beds is flat or declining and quality operators should be able to attract higher volumes of patients from hospitals if they care demonstrate quality outcomes. A mild flu season and high operator leverage exacerbated poor 1Q16 financial performance. I anticipate pressures on rates and LOS stabilizing and volume growth providing upside for post-acute care operators over a 1 – 2 year period while operators are rationalizing their delivery systems and paying down debt. I believe these factors put post-acute care closer to a performance pivot point than private pay seniors housing.
Health Care REITs – Health care REIT share prices have been buffeted by some of the same issues affecting private pay seniors housing and post-acute care operators but health care REIT share price performance has been much more mixed than that of the operators. Many health care REITs are well diversified, have strong lease coverage and are less exposed to overbuilding and revenue pressures than the operators themselves. Health care REIT stock performance is also significantly influenced by investor’s views on interest rates and overall economic growth. Some healthcare REITs, with more significant exposure to seniors housing or post-acute care issues, such as HCP, presumably its future SpinCo, and CCP, have been more directly impacted by the industry and operator issues noted above. These REITs, and some others, offer larger cap, more liquid investment vehicles than seniors housing or post-acute care operators but likely also have potential for upside from the industry pivot points described above.
Having retired as an equity analyst who followed seniors housing, post-acute care and health care REITs for 15 years, I no longer make Buy, Sell, Hold recommendations. I do recognize that there are significant risks for private pay senior housing operators and particularly for highly leveraged post-acute care operators. However, experience in the 1999 – 2002 crash of private-pay seniors housing and post-acute care and other sell-offs driven by operating underperformance, reimbursement cuts and regulatory issues show that these sell-offs have often proven to be great investment opportunities and have absolutely been a time to look harder at these sectors and develop an investment strategy and timetable rather than to flee the space.
For a more in depth discussion of these issues, listen to the Senior Care Investor webcast by clicking on the link below. Comments, including those with opposing viewpoints, welcome.
Earlier this month I toured The Stories at Congressional Plaza, a new type of “seniors housing” project designed to appeal to seniors as well as those of other ages looking for a high-tech, high-service environment in an urban mixed use setting. The Stories opened in February 2016 and is a joint effort of Federal Realty Investment Trust and Ryan Frederick’s Smart Living 360.
Federal Realty is a publicly traded REIT (NYSE: FRT) that specializes in the ownership, operation, and redevelopment of high quality retail real estate in the country’s best markets and is increasingly developing mixed-use projects in connection with its retail holdings. Ryan Frederick has long been known as one of the leading thinkers on the future of seniors housing through his Point Forward Solutions consulting company. Ryan has now created a new company, Smart Living 360, to work with a retail/mixed use developer, rather than a seniors housing company or health care REIT, to bring us his vision of the future of “seniors housing” in a property designed to appeal to seniors but open to those of all ages.
The Stories is a new 48 units apartment building located at 1628 E. Jefferson Street in Rockville, Maryland. It is part of Federal Realty’s Congressional Plaza redevelopment that includes a high-end shopping center, Federal’s corporate headquarters and an existing 150+/- unit apartment building with structured parking (The Crest), now about 10 years old. The Stories was developed on a site long designated for residential use as phase 2 of the Crest. According to Ryan, Federal became interested in consciously designing The Stories to appeal to the seniors market because they wanted a way to differentiate the projection from other high-end rental projects in the same area of the Rockville Pike, northwest of Washington and Bethesda.
The Stories is designed to appeal to the baby boomer market, now passing age 67, and other seniors with a “younger” outlook, unlikely to consider independent or assisted living or even a continuing care retirement community (CCRC). This market is large and rapidly growing and not well served by well served by conventional seniors housing. While those 75 and up are considered part of the senior housing markets in many market studies, the average entrance age for most dedicated senior housing communities is now closer to 85 than 75 (See Slow 80+ Pop Growth, Elevated Construction Spark Concern For Seniors Housing on this blog – https://robustretirement.com/?p=209.
Ryan and Smart Living 360’s vision for The Stories is derived from a view of what “younger” seniors want in a living environment to enhance their wellbeing and tries to anticipate the growing role of technology for enhancing seniors’ lifestyle and delivering the services they want and need. It is also purposefully designed to be flexible so it can adapt to the needs of its target market as they are discovered over time.
To understand what Federal and Smart Living 360 have created at The Stories, you need to think outside the traditional seniors housing box regarding design, services and technology.
Physically, The Stories is a attractive 5-story modern apartment community located in high-income, high-wealth, high-education zip code with a unit mix favoring larger 2 and 3 bedroom units (75% 2 bdrms) over one level of structured parking. With rents from $2,500 to $4,000, The Stories is priced at about half the cost per square foot of traditional IL properties in its market. But unlike conventional IL properties, The Stories does not bundle food service and activity programs into its rent. It is part of a mixed-use project including retail, office and other residential uses in a nice residential area a block off a heavily travel arterial street, the Rockville Pike, MD 355. The property faces other residential uses and fronts on a relatively quiet suburban street.
Units within The Stories look like high-end non-age-targeted residential rental units with small balconies that are designed with largely invisible accommodations for an aging senior market – wider doorways and master baths able to accommodate a wheel chair with higher toilets, easy entry showers, modest grab bars in the bath with studs behind the wall to allow more to be installed, roll out lower shelves in cabinets, electrical outlets further up on the wall, etc. These are accessible units that intentionally look like conventional units.
Common areas include a large fitness room with some specialized equipment for seniors that could also be used by personal trainers or rehab therapists, a central lounge with a refrigerator and cooking equipment and a self-serve coffee bar.
There is a small conference room that is designed so that it can also be used for a visit by a health professional or for telemedicine care. The entire building is pre-wired for high speed Verizon Fios internet with pre-installed routers; and service providers are available to install Sonos wireless speaker systems and other electronic amenities in the units. The electronics designed into the building are intended to accommodate increased use of patient self-monitoring and wellness devices that Ryan believes will become increasingly prevalent, sophisticated and integrated over time.
The building offers a secure electronic entry system, with an enhanced concierge called a Lifestyle Ambassador (services described below) manning the front desk during the day. The building is monitored in the evening by management personnel from the larger Crest Apartment building that is located at the other end of the block, across a parking lot from The Stories. The number and length of coverage by on-site personnel is partly limited by the buildings relatively small size, only 48 units.
What really sets The Stories apart as a community that will appeal to seniors is its use of a Lifestyle Ambassador, in this case a hotel industry trained and certified concierge cross-trained in seniors housing design and services. The role of the Lifestyle Ambassador is threefold – 1. Help residents connect with one another and with the outside community, 2. Provide access to any needed services, and 3. Simplify resident’s lives by taking care of pets and plants while residents are traveling and providing other services. Smart Living 360 makes use of many off-the-shelf on-demand services, has prearranged for a wide range of additional services to be available to residents of The Stories and will provide referrals to providers, including:
- Food Delivery
- Financial Advisors
- Case Managers
- Home Healthcare
- Personal Trainers
- Tech Services
The goal at The Stories is to offer attractive housing, location and services to enhance the well being of baby boomers and other “younger”, generally healthy seniors without the stigma of a traditional seniors housing community with a large percentage of very old, frail people; and to do it in a flexible way that allows it residents to order in any services they may need and to adapt to rapidly evolving technology for medical monitoring and wellness.
Smart Living 360 hopes to monitor residents of The Stories over time to see if the building’s design and the flexible services it offers will enhance residents’ well being compared to those living in other residential settings. This will be done using the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index that measures five factors:
- Purpose – Liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve goals
- Social – Having supportive relationships in your life
- Financial – Managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security
- Community – Liking where you live and having pride in your community
- Physical – Having good health and enough energy to get things done.
What is interesting to me about Smart Living 360’s approach compared to a traditional senior housing facility is that Smart Living 360’s Life Style Ambassador begins with the residents’ wishes and customizes activities and services the resident desires while a traditional senior housing facility has a menu of services into which it tries to fit a resident. I see the Smart Living 360 approach as more resident centric, more personalized and more adaptable over time.
The Stories occupies an interesting place somewhere between non-age-restricted market rate apartments and conventional seniors housing. Interestingly, the project was voluntarily described as 55+ housing in pre-opening marketing material but the developers have now decided to market its advantages for seniors but without the age restriction, which they believe may be a turn-off for their primary but not only target market. Of the first several residents moving in, two are seniors and one is age 29 but liked the amenities.
It remains to be seen whether The Stories will be successful in attracting baby boomers and other seniors with a “younger” outlook and how Ryan Frederick’s vision of meeting residents’ needs and increased use of electronic devices to monitor and enhance health and wellness will come to pass. But I believe, even at this stage, The Stories has some interesting lessons for seniors housing and multi-family developer/operators and institutional real estate investors. These include:
- Non-age restricted housing and un-senior “seniors housing”, as I categorize the Stories, may be more appealing to under 80s seniors, and even those over 80 in good health with younger outlook, than more conventional seniors housing projects. For a significant portion of the senior population today and I believe for even a larger portion of the baby boomers, living in mixed aged neighborhoods or even in mixed age buildings like The Stories may be preferable to living in a senior ghetto or in an isolated age-restricted community.
- We have already seen obsolescence in seniors housing communities, such as IL projects without sufficient provisions for handicapped residents, IL and CCRC projects without AL and memory care units, AL communities with insufficient common space for gyms or rehab care and IL and AL buildings with too many small units. This history suggests that building flexible design into seniors housing communities, which The Stories has very deliberately tried to do, may be an advantage for the community over time.
- Seniors housing located in mixed use projects or higher density urban areas, where services and amenities are close-by, while often more difficult and more expensive to develop than stand-alone conventional IL or AL communities, would seem to offer a lot of appeal for the baby boomer age cohort and other active seniors.
- In an age of on-demand services, such as Uber and Foodler, planning seniors housing around services delivered by outside vendors may prove both cost effective and better able to meet seniors desires and needs than the service packages typically available in seniors housing communities.
- Seniors, particularly the baby boomer age cohort, are increasingly tech-savvy and should be able to adapt to electronic delivery of health and wellness services, as well as other on-demand services, and may see projects designed to accommodate more high-tech amenities as more appealing than conventional care models.
- The resident centric and holistic approach to meeting resident’s needs built into the Lifestyle Ambassador approach that incorporates both social and care needs, seems to offer some advantages over the way conventional seniors housing services are organized with responsibility fragmented between healthcare, activities, dining and caregiving personnel, each of whom may only see themselves responsible for a slice of a senior’s needs. While the staff in any well managed seniors housing project should get to know the “whole resident”, making resident on-demand centric services the organizing principal of your care delivery system appears to offer some advantages and a have a better chance of assuring a residents need are met.
The question I most encounter when speaking with friends, family members and acquaintances about seniors housing is: How do you get a reluctant family member of advanced age living alone to agree to move to seniors housing? It doesn’t seem to matter if the family member is 79 or 99, there is still a strong reluctance on the part of many of today’s seniors to move to any type of seniors housing despite objective information that such a move improves socialization, nutrition and overall health and wellness, and may increase longevity.
While “How to get a reluctant family member to move?” may be the quintessential question to which families would like an answer, I find very little useful information on the web and from seniors housing organizations on how to address this question. In order to seek an answer for myself and for those who ask me about it, I interviewed a 97 year-old friend and former neighbor who made the decision to move to a CCRC about 18 months ago. I wanted to understand her decision to move, what finally convinced her to move and how her experience has been since moving to her CCRC. For the purpose of this blog, we will call her Ms. F.
Ms. F is a remarkable person in many ways but I believe her decision to move to seniors housing and her experience after she arrived are still illustrative for others. As I indicated, Ms. F is 97 years old. She moved from the large, single family home where she raised her family to a condominium in 1979, when she was only 60, partly due the health of her husband who died seven years later. She continued to live in a full-service elevator-served condominium with a wide-range of resident ages until 2014, when she made the move to a CCRC. In her condo, Ms. F had occasional cleaning help but lived independently and drove. When living at her condo, Ms. F attended a Pilates class once a week, played 9-holes of golf regularly through 2013 and had an active social and cultural life. Ms. F is college educated, cultured, very well dressed and had enough wealth so that all housing and care options were available to her.
The discussion of a move to seniors housing started with Ms. F’s children, the oldest of whom is 74, about three years before Ms. F’s decision to move. Her children, who live in another city at least six month of the year, were concerned about her living on her own and continuing to drive. Ms. F indicated she finally agreed to move to a CCRC to make her children happy and because after a bout of pneumonia in the winter of 2013 she did not bounce back completely to her previous stamina. The discussions for her to move also began after her significant-other, with whom she had a very long-term relationship, died.
Ms. F’s reluctance to move to a CCRC or another type of seniors housing primarily arose from the fact that moving to such a facility would require her to “admit she was old”, something she had never really done despite being 95 at the time of her move. Ms. F, like many in the current generation of Roaring Twenties Babies in their 80s and 90s, also saw moving to seniors housing in a negative light because it indicated to her that she could no longer live on her own and she saw it as giving up some of her independence.
One of the key lessons I took from Ms. F’s experience is that us Baby Boomers, the children of today’s 80 and 90 year-olds, tend to see their parents as very old, frail people in need of care while many seniors do not view themselves as old and cherish their independence. This suggests that any conversation about a move to seniors housing should not begin with the senior’s frailties but how such a move could enhance and prolong independence. It would be better for us Boomers to approach these discussions thinking about the attributes of senior housing that we would find attractive because a seniors’ view of him or her self, if still healthy and not cognitively impaired, sees 80 or even 90 as the new 60.
The other clear lesson from Ms. F’s experience, and that of other seniors and their families that I have observed, is that the decision to move to seniors housing, if made voluntarily, is often a prolonged process that can stretch to a year or more. It is also important to realize that senior housing facilities offer a broad range of housing and lifestyle choices and may involve trade-offs between housing and lifestyle amenities, something that seniors and, in many cases, their children may not understand. Visits and short-term stays, which many facilities offer, can help a senior and their families get to know a facility well before committing to move.
It is also worth noting that a mixed-age full-service condominium served Ms. F very well as a housing choice for 35 years, from the time she was 60 until she was 95. With the growing availability of smart-phone accessed transportation, grocery and food delivery and home care services, it is important for the seniors housing industry to realize that well-designed, mixed-age apartments and condominiums can be a very viable option for many seniors and that seniors may prefer such options that don’t require them to “admit they are old”.
Ms. F and her family did not undertake an exhaustive search of senior housing facilities because they were looking for something high-end and were familiar with many of the choices because Ms. F, at 95, knew people living at a number of the likely choices. The facility Ms. F chose was relatively close to her condominium, offered extensive educational and cultural programming, which appealed to her, and had friendly and welcoming staff. The downside of the community Ms. F chose was that it dates from 1984 and did not offer some of the amenities within its units and common areas of other facilities that were newer or which had undergone extensive renovations. Ms. F looked at a number of different units before she found one on an upper floor that had enough natural light to make it appealing. Ms. F moved from a modern three-bedroom, two-bath condo with larger windows and lots of light to an oversized one-bedroom, one-bath senior housing unit. She believes the size of the unit is fine but would prefer a larger bath and a separate powder room for when she has quests. Ms. F’s focus on a welcoming staff, light in units and other factors dovetail well with industry studies of independent living customer satisfaction. (See my blog on Finding Happiness In Seniors Housing https://robustretirement.com/2015/08/20/finding-happiness-in-senior-housing/).
It is worth noting that the CCRC to which Ms. F moved is about to undertake a major expansion and renovation that will add larger independent living apartments in response to demand, add a memory care section and renovate public areas to update the look and add casual café-style dining in addition to the formal dining room.
Ms. F’s transition to a CCRC has been relatively easy for her. She only knew one person well at the CCRC when she moved but Ms. F was able to make friends quickly. Today Ms. F gets around without a walker but does worry about falling and is careful when she walks. Ms. F was still driving at the time she moved to a CCRC but not long after she arrived she had a minor traffic accident and decided to give up driving. However, using the CCRCs and private transportation services, Ms. F still gets to her Pilates class once a week and to cultural events (She will be traveling to New York soon to see Hamilton) and she has added personal fitness training at the CCRC and is attending many of the programs that the facility offers, including a current lecture series on the Supreme Court planned before Justice Scalia’s death.
I believe Ms. F’s attitude toward her move to a CCRC also eased her transition. Rather than focus on the space she was giving up and the things she was leaving behind, Ms. F chose to view her move as an opportunity. She got help from a decorator to design and furnish her new home, bought some new things and recovered some of the furniture she chose to move from her condominium. So she made it a new beginning rather than a move down.
Ms. F is very positive on her CCRC now that she has moved and agrees that she may have benefitted from moving sooner. But Ms. F doubts she could have made the decision to move until she started to notice herself slowing down following her pneumonia, had lost her significant other and was ready to admit she was old. One of the benefits she sees at the CCRC is knowing other couples that are older than her but still mentally active and able to get around. Her close friends at the facility include a couple that are 102 and, while he uses a walker, are still in very good health and very alert.
Top on Ms. F’s list of what makes her CCRC a good place to live are:
- Activities/Programming – special events (St. Patrick’s Day and Easter Dinners for example), movies including first run movies such as Spotlight and Brooklyn, Lectures that cost residents $25 and outsiders $125, religious services, entertainment every Wednesday and other events like a forum for local mayoral candidates.
- Volunteer Opportunities
- In-House Exercise Programs and therapy
- Housekeeping Services that include weekly linen service, biweekly cleaning and an annual complete unit cleaning as part of the base rate and PAL service that for $21 per hour provide additional light cleaning, laundry and making the bed.
- Friendly Staff who know you by name and friendly residents. Many of the staff are African American high school students interested in careers in healthcare or food service/hospitality industry that the facility trains.
- Someone Looking Out For You – It is comforting knowing there is always someone there for you. The facility has an electronic monitoring system that can tell if you are not up moving around your unit by a certain time and uses other checks such as attending meals and taking in your paper to check to be sure you are all right, as well as emergency alert system.
- A Healthy Future – Ms. F can see that she is not the oldest and certainly healthier than some others.
Three things came together to spark this blog:
- A January 17, 2015 New York Times article entitled “Mean Girls in the Retirement Home” (http://nyti.ms/1KStZ4j),
- A 2014 study by the American Seniors Housing Association (seniorshousing.org) entitled Unlocking the Mystery Behind Very Satisfied Independent Living Customers – Make Them “Feel at Home” and
- A dinner conversation with a couple who are friends and former neighbors about choosing among several retirement communities in Boston, where they plan to relocate to be closer to their children.
The New York Times “Mean Girls in the Retirement Home” article documents the presence of cliques in senior housing communities that sometimes make it very difficult for a new resident to fit in. Some new residents face outright hostility from existing residents who are already part of well established social groups. It also documents the steps taken by a 97-year-old new resident and her daughter to help the new resident fit in and make friends.
ASHA’s “Feel at Home” study of very satisfied independent living residents also identifies cliques as a problem in established senior housing residents but it goes on to study factors that are most important for making a senior housing resident feel at home and be very satisfied in an independent living community. The ASHA study is intended to help operators of independent living communities make their residents feel at home and boost satisfaction levels, resident retention and resident referrals, all of which can have a meaningful impact on the bottom line.
Last month, as I spoke with my friends in their late 80s about their move to a senior housing community in a new city, it occurred to me that the New York Times article and, particularly, the ASHA study can provide potential senior housing residents with an excellent list of what will be most important in making them happy in senior housing and a data-driven check list of what to look for as they consider various communities. This blog attempts to reformulate the ASHA study into a compact guide to happiness in senior housing for potential residents. My thanks to David Schless, Executive Director of ASHA, for giving me permission to use the study results in this manner.
What’s Most Important For Happiness?
How frequently and how strongly a senior housing resident feels at home accounted for nearly half of the overall satisfaction of senior housing residents in a 2012 ASHA study. The 2014 study explored what caused independent living residents to “Feel at Home”. ASHA’s “Feel at Home” study was based on a survey of 6,858 predominantly rental independent living residents in 11 metropolitan areas who completed a 55 question survey. ProMatura Group, a well-respected survey research firm based in Oxford, MS that specializes in senior housing and care research, conducted the survey, evaluated the survey results and authored the ASHA study. I want to thank Margaret Wylde Ph.D., CEO of ProMatura Group and her staff since for this blog I have borrowed liberally from the ASHA study, which was the product of their work.
Key factors contributing to “Feel at Home” identified in the 2014 ASHA study include satisfaction with private residence (32%), camaraderie with others (31%), sense of control (14%) and staff know them well (5%). Other items contributing less that 5% of “Feel at Home” included:
- Number of friends in the community
- Decorated residence the way they like
- Know the things they need to know about the community
- Quality of daily activities and programs
- Dining program
- Dining schedules
- Frequency of seeing friends outside the community
- Transportation provided by the community
What To Look For When You Visit?
ASHA’s “Feel at Home” study and this blog focus on satisfaction of independent living residents. Someone moving to independent living is about 85 years old, is moving from their a private residence they have occupied for an average of 19 years, usually a single family home, and is healthy enough to live with minimum outside help with the activities of daily living (See Senior Housing Options above for a more detailed description). The prospective resident is typically active in making the decision about whether and where to move.
Private Residence – Most senior housing communities are designed to wow you with their façade, grounds and the common areas you see just inside the front door, what marketers call “curb appeal”. While the ASHA study indicates the quality of common areas contributes to resident satisfaction, the study indicates attributes of the private residence are more important to residents feeling at home and being very satisfied. Key factors in making a private residence satisfying include:
- Unit size – Just like with Goldilocks, the most satisfying independent living residence was not too big or too small, with 841 sq. ft. on average being “just the right size”.
- Decor and Storage Space – Being surrounded by familiar things, having a décor that you liked and the ability to store possessions where you can access them were important for overall satisfaction with one’s private residence.
- Natural Light – In the ASHA surveys more than half of the “I’m Home” customers strongly agreed with the amount of natural light in their residence, so looking for multiple windows that allow for plenty of natural light is a feature prospective residents and their families should consider.
- View from the Windows in Private Residence – Along with natural light, “I’m Home” customers were likely to have a nice view from the windows in their private residence. More than half (54%) of “I’m Home” customers strongly agreed they enjoy the view from the windows of their residence. A view doesn’t have to include beaches, mountains, parks or rivers; a nice view can be as simple as a tree, a small garden area, a fountain, or a bird feeder.
Camaraderie With Others – Camaraderie with others was nearly tied with “satisfaction with private residence” as the most important factor making senior housing residents feel at home and very satisfied. Other factors, such as having close friends and the number of friends also contributed to residents’ satisfaction. Gauging how well you or a loved one will fit in at a senior living residence can be difficult to do during a visit. Things you can ask about or do during a visit for how welcoming a community will be include:
- Warmth of Greetings – Make it a point to notice if you are greeted warmly by staff and other residents.
- Cliques – Ask staff specifically about the presence of cliques in the building and the specific measures staff takes to address cliques and the off-putting behavior that may be associated with them.
- Steps To Help New Residents Fit In – A senior housing community cannot impose friendships on new or existing customers, but staff can and should facilitate that eventuality. According to the ASHA study, staff from the very beginning of association with a new customer need to learn who they are, what they like, identify and help them form links with other customers. Items noted in the ASHA study that might help include staff sponsoring house warming coffees for a small group of residents in a new resident’s unit after they settle in and having a mentor from among the existing residents help acclimate newcomers. You should ask what specific steps each community takes to help new residents fit in.
- Cultural Fit – Try to assess how you or your love one’s economic and social background compares with that of other residents and how the future resident’s age and physical and mental capacity match up. New residents that are on the slightly younger side, more mentally alert and better dressed may find it easier to fit in according to the New York Times article.
- Interests – What are your interests and are there any others at the facility that have similar interests or some other connection that might make it easier for you to make one or two friends.
- Try It Out – You should definitely try the dining and do it in the residents’ dining room not in a private dining room while meeting with the marketing staff. This will give you an ideal of the quality of the food and how it is served as well as how receptive existing residents are to newcomers. Many senior housing communities also allow for short-term respite stays or give prospects a chance to try out the community. This may offer a better way to assess your compatibility with a community than a visit or two of a hour or so. You may also want to visit in the evening to see what staffing and the activity level is like after prime viewing hours.
Sense of Control – Sense of control was about half as important to resident satisfaction and feeling at home than a resident’s unit and camaraderie with other residents but did matter. Factors affecting a sense of control included:
- Information – Knowing where things are, how things work and what is going on can be important for residents to feel in control. The orientation and communication process between the building and its staff with residents is worth asking about. Sales counselors should explore the social preferences of prospects and ensure they understand the communal nature of the community. They should discuss group activities, dining, and the many interactions with others that occur during a typical day.
- Scheduling Flexibility – New residents moving from a private home where they may have few visitors to a senior housing community with scheduled meals and activities and its own daily routine can experience a loss of control Flexibility on meal times, when to get up and go to bed and options for transportation and activities can contribute to a resident maintaining a sense of control.
- Options – Not Requirements – Residents should be encouraged to be out of their residences and participating in activities but should feel that have the option to pass on activities that aren’t of interest.
Staff Knowing Residents – How well the staff knows a resident accounted for about 5% of residents feeling at home and being very satisfied. You should get a sense of staff interaction with residents during a visit and should explicitly ask existing residents if they believe the staff know them well.
Strategies For A Successful Transition and Finding Happiness
To ease the transition and find happiness in a move to a senior housing community, the studies suggest the following:
- Recognize The Move Will Be Stressful – It is important for a senior moving into a community and their family to recognize that such a move is a major transition and will be challenging and somewhat stressful under the best of circumstances.
- It Will Take Time To Adjust – Very satisfied residents who “Feel at Home” have an average tenure of four years, versus three years for those that sometimes feel at home and two years for those who don’t feel at home. So the longer a resident lives in a senior housing community, the more likely they are to “Feel at Home”. Give yourself some time to adjust and stop missing your former home.
- Identify Some Positives – Despite the magnitude of the change, there are usually real advantages for a senior previously living on their own. These include: greater social interaction, better nutrition, more physical activity and potential greater freedom of action if you take advantage of community provided transportation and support services.
- Incorporate Familiar Items – A resident’s own furniture and other familiar and personal items can help make the new residence “Feel At Home”.
- Visit Often – The quality of visits by family members is important to overall satisfaction and can help ease the transition and the feelings some new residents may have of being isolated in their new surroundings.
- Get Out and About – Opportunities to visit places and friends outside the community is also an important factor differentiating very satisfied residents. Excursions with family members or friends, using transportation offered by the community, or Uber or taxi may all be beneficial in easing a transition to a new senior housing community.
With NIC-MAP data starting to report an upturn in senior housing development activity, many older senior housing properties are or can soon be expected to face a more competitive market for new residents. Senior housing, and particularly purpose built assisted living and memory care, are relatively young industries and most early assisted living properties were developed in the mid-1990s. Nevertheless, early assisted living properties, particularly those that did not receive substantial capital infusions during the recession, are becoming dated in comparison to newly constructed buildings. As a result, repositioning of older assisted living and memory care properties is likely to become increasingly important for the senior housing industry as more new units are constructed and competition increases.
Because many, but certainly not all, early assisted living and memory care properties are located in very attractive, hard-to-duplicate infill locations, repositioning good 1990s vintage properties may prove a very attractive investment alternative if such properties decline in value because of occupancy declines in a more competitive environment. In this blog, I focus on repositioning opportunities for the classic Sunrise Mansion property as a proxy for all older assisted living and memory care properties. I focus on Sunrise properties not because I believe the company has underinvested in their assets relative to other operators but because the Sunrise Mansion is the prototype for almost all of the mid- to late-1990s assisted living and memory care buildings. As I write this, it has been 3 – 4 years since I toured a Sunrise mansion. So some of my observations may be dated. However, over the course of my consulting, equity research and investment banking careers I easily toured dozens of Sunrise Mansions and similar vintage properties operated by national companies, regional and local operators. I had the opportunity over the years to meet with several generations of Sunrise senior and operational management as well as senior and operational management of many other national and regional senior housing operators. I also have had many informal discussions advising family and friends about senior housing options and getting feedback on their senior housing experiences and was actively engaged with the placement and experiences of my own parents in both assisted living and skilled nursing care.
Sunrise Mansion Pros and Cons
Before providing my thoughts on repositioning Sunrise Mansions and properties of similar vintage, I wanted to list the pros and cons I see for these Sunrise Mansions as a proxy for well located, good quality 1990s vintage assisted living properties:
Suggestions For Repositioning Sunrise Mansions and Properties Of Similar Vintage
Location – Most locations are very good. However, some may have become less viable because of changing neighborhood conditions, because some site locations were forced at height of late-1990s development push or because newer competition has come on the market. You can’t move the buildings but in most cases existing locations work and some existing sites may offer redevelopment or new construction options.
Design – Property sizes range from 75+/- resident capacity to 120+ resident capacity. While I conceptually agree that residents should be out interacting with other residents and staff, not in their units, some Sunrise and other early assisted living units may be too small for current affluent senior preferences, which I summarize as independent living size apartments with assisted living + level services. I continue to like pricing flexibility that flexible single/dual occupancy units provide but some may need to be reconfigured into more interesting larger units given demand.
Since, in most cases, buildings are on in-fill sites and cannot be enlarged, the practicality of combining some existing units to increase average room size, reduce total unit count and add some common space elements should be explored. Given building size, an opportunity may exist to differentiate a Sunrise Mansion type property as the boutique/exclusive/personalized sized provider with somewhat smaller buildings than competitors if the economics will work. I do not know the economic impact of reducing residents/increasing unit size but believe these options need to be explored and believe that there may be pricing flexibility for more exclusive, more personalized services in smaller buildings.
I believe the basic building design in Sunrise Mansion type properties is excellent but I would add room for a personal trainer and possibly some weight equipment, and perhaps more dedicated space for classes like yoga/palates, more space for a spa (facials/pedicures/massage, etc.) rather than just a beauty shop and perhaps space for a rehab therapy provider, which might be combined with personal trainer space. If rooms are being enlarged and number of residents reduced, I believe it should be possible to convert a few smaller rooms to the uses noted above. I believe these changes should appeal to affluent consumers and their children and can be used to offer more personalized care options than three levels of care that have traditionally been used by Sunrise and many other operators. Personal trainer, yoga classes, extra beauty treatments could all be offered on fee for service or club membership plan. I believe personalized services like those described above could all be offered in relatively small spaces and still make Sunrise type buildings much more competitive with larger AL and IL properties with services.
I believe space for Internet café within building and a broader look at use of technology for patient interaction with families, staff monitoring, etc. is important. See my blog on “Technology In Seniors Housing” for a more extensive discussion of how technology can be used to increase resident and family engagement, interaction, mobility and evaluation. But FaceTime or Skype interaction between residents and families, regular email or video reports to families on the condition of loved ones, computerized links to physicians and other care providers, computerized tools for patient monitoring and stimulation and things like Uber for more flexible transportation services are all things that might reasonably be incorporated into existing senior housing communities. Some of these require dedicated space and all require trained or specialized staff.
Overall decor, which in early Sunrise properties I remember as being a bit fussy “Laurel Ashley-like” may need to be updated.
The levels of cap ex spending by operator varied, particularly during the recession but I expect basic-cap ex and infrastructure investment will be needed for mid-90s vintage properties to remain competitive as new properties are introduced to the market.
After a fire last year in senior housing facility in Canada, the importance of life safety standards, which I believe is high at Sunrise Mansion properties but not all 1990s vintage properties, should be emphasized.
Services – Service has and will continue to be more important than space for high quality senior care. Sunrise was a trendsetter in quality and personalized care compared to traditional skilled nursing properties and I believe continues to have a strong commitment to resident independence, dignity and quality care. However, patient wellness and treatment standards for memory care have evolved since the core Sunrise care concepts were developed in the 1990s and I believe a complete review of Sunrise’s memory care service offerings and those of many other AL/memory care operators with an eye to setting a new standard for quality and personal attention is likely needed. Key elements in a revision to services that I see include:
- A wellness program that provides individualized and integrated exercise, nutrition and mental health services for each resident. This would incorporate a personal trainer rather than the group exercise programs now seen at Sunrise Mansion and other facilities, even more personalized meal planning and both computer assisted and staff provided mental agility and health services screening and stimulation. This assumes additional staff on contract or employed with specialized training not now found in Sunrise facilities to the best of my knowledge.
- More active review of medication management, particularly for memory care residents. This may require a more active link between Sunrise facilities and healthcare or mental healthcare providers. I am no expert in this area but believe that some dedicated memory care providers, such as Silverado, are more active in reviewing medications and medication management than most AL operators, are more likely to recommend changes in medication regimens and have more active involvement by attending physicians in reviewing their resident’s medications. I believe over medication and adverse medication interaction remains a bit issue for seniors and this is an area with AL operators may be able to distinguish their service offerings.
- A review of the memory care program. My sense is that providers like Silverado, with links to leading healthcare researchers at many of its facilities, have developed more comprehensive memory care treatment protocols than Sunrise any other operators who have been in the business for a while and Sunrise and other national AL operators should again set the standard.
- I believe respite care is offered at many Sunrise communities but not certain if this is considered an integral part of the service offering that could be coordinated with a more robust therapy offering to position Sunrise as a post-acute or recovery option in a more integrated healthcare system. My recollection is that respite care is just used where units are vacant as a marketing and supplemental revenue generation tool. I am not certain that Sunrise or other assisted living providers should be in the post-acute or respite business but these options should be evaluated and a business decision made. Focusing some buildings on respite/post-acute care may make sense and it may be possible to combine on site respite care with rehab therapy to offer a more attractive and lower cost post-acute care alternative for some seniors and insurance providers.
- Other ancillary services, in addition to rehab therapy and medications management noted above, such as hospice and home healthcare care have been at times offered by Sunrise and other operators both in and outside their properties with company staff. I believe home healthcare and hospice care continue to be offered by third parties at some Sunrise properties. I believe Sunrise’s commitment to let residents age and ultimately die in place is an important part of the Sunrise culture and a differentiated element of the Sunrise brand and is also an important part of some other operators culture. However, there are a range of ancillary care options for assisted living operators ranging from: avoiding supplemental ancillary services to make their buildings more appealing to healthier seniors, to allowing residents to purchase services from third parties, to having approved partners, to directly providing ancillary services. My sense is that directly providing of ancillary services would be a significant distraction for many assisted living operators but a clear policy about the use of ancillary services in all of a company’s properties should be made if this has not already been done and using different levels of ancillary care at different buildings may be a way to differentiate a particularly property within a market.
- Medicare managed care for residents is another option that Sunrise and other operators may wish to consider, likely teamed with a partner. The only senior housing operator to operate its own Medicare Advantage plan, to the best of my knowledge, is Erickson Retirement and only at some of its communities. Sunrise, Brookdale and some regional operators may have the resident density in some markets to either operate a MA plan themselves or team with a managed care or healthcare provider partner to operate one. This could be an important differentiator if it helps ease the burden of coordinating healthcare services for residents and their families and is seen an providing quality care. It might also be a more effective way of providing other ancillary services rather that teaming with various hospice, healthcare or therapy providers. In some markets it may be possible for multiple operators with links to a single healthcare REIT to join in a Medicare Advantage or other type of ACO plan to gain sufficient scale to be effective.
- Transportation – Mobility is an important factor for many seniors. A review of transportation options with multiple vehicles and multiple drivers available in lieu of the single bus should be considered. I envision each repositioned property having or having access to two or more of the new small SUV cab-type vehicles increasingly seen in major cities, and becoming standard in New York, that can readily accommodate a wheel chair and perhaps up to four passenger in total. In addition, I envision each facility having something more akin to Uber to schedule cars and pick ups as needed, giving residents much more flexible mobility. It may even be possible to use an outside Uber or Lyft like service specially tailored to seniors for this. The traditional facility bus might or might not still be needed for group outings.