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Demand drives need for assisted-living centers

December 13, 1997

Demand drives need for assisted-living centers

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

When an assisted-living room at Ravenwood Lutheran Village became available last July, Mary Hoover didn't hesitate in taking the room.

There hadn't been many available and the 89-year-old Hagerstown resident didn't want to have to go on a waiting list.

It is that demand for such facilities that has spurred four different groups to announce in the last six weeks plans to build assisted-living centers in Washington County next year.

Private assisted-living facilities are the fastest-growing sector in retirement communities, said Fred Otto, executive director of the Washington County Commission on Aging.

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They are a more affordable option for senior citizens who don't need medical care, Otto said.

Only two of the proposed facilities have announced price ranges, roughly $1,500 to $2,700 a month, officials said.

A nursing home can cost $36,000 a year and private medical care at home can go as high as $90,000 a year, Otto said.

Assisted-living rooms typically include a bedroom/living room area with a private bath. Some have kitchenettes.

Activities such as bingo are provided at the centers as well as shopping and recreational trips.

Bridging the gap

"Assisted-living bridges the gap between independent, private living and nursing home care," said Ken Newell, president of Manorhouse Retirement Centers Inc. Manorhouse plans to break ground in the spring across from North Hagerstown High School on an assisted-living community that will accommodate 103 residents.

Some residents require help with housekeeping and daily activities such as bathing, grooming, getting dressed and taking their medication.

"They need to know that 24-hour supervision is available," even if they don't actually need it, said Debra Anthony, Ravenwood's director of assisted living. Ravenwood is owned by Tressler Lutheran Services, a partner in one of the proposed facilities.

Mary Hoover had lived in a cottage at Ravenwood off Wilson Boulevard for five years, but wanted to move into an assisted-living room in case she fell again.

Hoover said she didn't need as much care as the nursing home provided, but wanted to know help was close by if needed.

"Not everyone that's in a nursing home needs to be in a nursing home," said Tim Costello, a director of development with Balanced Care Corp. Balanced Care is planning to build assisted-living communities in Hagerstown, Martinsburg, W.Va., and Shippensburg, Pa., next year.

Before the advent of assisted-living centers and even now, some nursing home residents are paying more for services they don't need, industry experts said.

Private assisted-living centers also have become popular with state officials because the government doesn't have to pay as much medical assistance as they would for nursing home care, said Ruth Gulyas, director of assisted living with the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging in Washington, D.C.

Aging population

Manorhouse's Newell said there might be concern in the immediate future about filling the beds the four new centers will provide, but the beds should fill up in the long run.

People are living longer and the number of senior citizens is growing rapidly, especially with the aging baby boomer population, said Sue Ward, director of the Maryland Office on Aging.

In Washington County, the number of people age 60 and older is expected to be 24,195 this year and 35,303 in 2020, according to population projections.

The number of people in the county age 85 and older is estimated to be 2,107 this year and 3,228 in 2020, according to projections.

The average profile of an assisted-living center resident is a woman in her low- to mid-80s who needs help with three daily living activities Gulyas said.

Even if the proposed assisted-living accommodations in the county fill their roughly 360 beds, there will still be a need in the not too distant future for more of these facilities, industry officials said.

The facilities also will add to the tax base and create more jobs.

Three of the facilities plan to create at least a combined total of 150 jobs in the county, officials said.

Manorhouse will spend about $950,000 a year on payroll, with pay ranging from $7 an hour for part-time help to up to $50,000 a year for management staff, Newell said.

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