Saturday, March 24, 2012

'Resort' assisted living popular despite price

When Bob Whipple was recovering from knee-replacement surgery late last year, he counted 39 friends and neighbors who came to visit him.

And why not? Most didn't have far to walk.

He and his wife, Helen, live in Sagewood, an upscale-retirement complex near the MusicalInstrument Museum in northeast Phoenix. One of Sagewood's salient features is assisted living, memory care and nursing-home care, provided on the property for anyone who needs it.

"I went to our health facility next door and stayed in a lovely private room for a week," said Whipple, a gregarious 79-year-old, speaking of his post-surgery recovery. "It never cost us a cent, not a penny. They have to take care of us no matter what, at no extra cost."

Facilities such as Sagewood bundle retirement-resort living with elder health care. Simply put, you live independently in an apartment until you need assisted living, memory help or skilled nursing care. The concept has been around for a while but is getting a new look as the oldest Baby Boomers retire, though it's clearly not for everyone.

Sagewood, operated by privately held Life Care Services of Des Moines, Iowa, provides resort-style amenities expected of an upscale complex, such as four restaurants and two swimming pools, jacuzzis, weight and fitness facilities, classes and special-interest clubs. Weekly housekeeping is provided in each home, and a monthly allowance covers most meals.

Sagewood offers on-site health care at no extra cost, except for added meal expenses and medical supplies required during health stays, and ancillary services from doctors and medical specialists. Sagewood is regulated by the Arizona Department of Insurance.

"We're basically offering long-term health care," said Stewart Ingram, the facility's executive director. "It's a life-care contract."

Sagewood is open to people 62 and up, with the average age 77 or 78, Ingram said.

Various other apartment retirement complexes in metro Phoenix have a similar focus, typically combining assisted living, nursing care, memory care and other services in an active-adult atmosphere.

These include Vi at Grayhawk, Vi at Silverstone, Westminster Village, Maravilla and the Pueblo Norte Senior Living Community, all in Scottsdale; Friendship Village in Tempe; the Beatitudes Campus in Phoenix; and Sierra Winds in Peoria. Some charge separately for health services, while others like Sagewood package all services into a single price.

Life Care Services has been in business for four decades.

"It's not a new concept," Ingram said. The firm operates about 90 such communities.

Because homes are taking a lot longer to sell these days, making it tough for prospective residents to move in, some developments are dangling incentives. For instance, Sagewood is offering interest-free financing for up to 18 months to help residents pay part or all of the one-time entrance fee.

"That allows clients to leave their homes, come to Sagewood and enjoy all the services and amenities ... while waiting for their homes to sell," Ingram said.

Part of Sagewood's marketing approach is to get seniors thinking about these issues before they're forced to. Many people wait until they face a health emergency, but by then, they're often hurried into making hasty decisions.

Pricey considerations

The Sagewood experience doesn't come inexpensively. Life Care Services charges one-time entrance fees ranging from about $310,000 to $1.1 million, depending on the size of the apartment, which you don't own. The entrance fee for a second person is $12,000. That's on top of monthly fees ranging from about $2,400 to $4,100, plus around $1,100 for a second person, covering rent, most meals, most utilities, weekly housekeeping and more. Sagewood has 19 floor plans ranging from 750 to 2,400 square feet, Ingram said.

But Life Care Services does offer a return-of-capital program that makes the up-front cost easier to bear. The company returns 80 percent of the entrance fee to residents if they decide to move out or to beneficiaries when residents die. The company promises a full refund to anyone moving out in the first four months.

The 278-apartment Sagewood property, which opened two years ago, is about 60 percent occupied.

It's important to note that not everyone will need significant assisted-living or nursing care, though it's hard to predict how much you might require. Long-term-care insurance can be a lower-cost option for people who can qualify medically for it, with a 60-year-old couple in good health likely to pay an annual premium of about $3,000 for a standard policy, reports the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance. But premiums rise the older you get, and you become less likely to qualify for coverage as you age.

A full year of assisted-living care averaged about $36,000 in Arizona in 2011, according to a study by Genworth Financial, while a full year in a nursing home averaged about $79,000. Both estimates were for private rooms; shared rooms were a bit less expensive.

Sagewood residents aren't required to have a long-term-care insurance policy, but they must maintain coverage for Medicare Parts A and B and supplemental insurance, the company said. Prospective residents also must pass a memory health assessment, and they can't need 60 or more minutes of personal care a day.

Not for everyone

Those prices make Sagewood unaffordable for a lot of retirees, and there are other possible impediments. For example, although pets are allowed, smoking is not, even within apartments. Also, Sagewood is a high-density community, which means there are rules everyone must follow.

"If you make up your mind that you don't want to be around a lot of people, this place isn't for you," Helen Whipple said.

Husband Bob, a retired certified public accountant, ran the numbers before the couple sold their Carefree house and moved to Sagewood. In terms of monthly costs, he said living at Sagewood came to within $50 of what they had been spending. They felt the extra outlay was worth the peace of mind.

The Whipples have two sons, both married and living out of state. They said both welcomed the move, in part because it relieves them of potential caregiving pressure.

"I'm not sure if it was our sons or our daughters-in-law who rejoiced the most," Bob Whipple quipped.

By Russ Wiles Mar 23, 2012

'Resort' assisted living popular despite price

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