- Associated Press - Saturday, February 14, 2015

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Heritage Communities is putting the finishing touches on a $14 million retirement center near 132nd and Pacific Streets that will allow residents to transition to a higher level of care without a change of scenery.

The company may be one of few in Nebraska to use a model that allows independent-living residents to stay in the same apartment even after they have transitioned to assisted-living care.

The new facility, expected to open by March 1, features 107 rooms total, with memory support care, assisted-living and independent-living apartments with one- and two-bedroom and bathroom options. Heritage is building another $14 million facility near 168th Street and West Center Road that will use the same model and is expected to open this summer.

“For some people, it won’t be the right fit … but we’re going for those people who want to transition in place,” said Lacy Jungman, director of sales and marketing at Heritage Communities.

Many retirement communities offer assisted-living care and independent-living apartments on the same campus, but residents must move to a separate wing or building when they decide they need additional care. Others may hire a home health aide, who can help out in an independent-living apartment as in any other setting reports the Omaha World-Herald (https://bit.ly/1Ehzvbu ).

But at the Heritage at Sterling Ridge and the Heritage at Legacy, residents will have the option to stay in the same apartment and receive assisted-living care by paying a $500 monthly fee on top of the assisted-living rent, which starts at $3,400 per month. Independent-living apartments start at $2,950 per month for a one-bedroom unit with one bathroom.

“It was just hearing what our residents wanted. They said, ‘I’ve moved from my house, I downsized once. I don’t want to do it again,’ ” Jungman said. “It was the right thing to do by our residents, so we listened.”

Other amenities at the Heritage facilities include a pub, a bistro, a room for religious services, a salon and barbershop, exercise facilities, a movie theater and a private dining room.

Heritage Communities is headquartered in Omaha and owns and operates nine facilities in Nebraska and Iowa and one in Surprise, Arizona.

David Schless, president of the nonprofit group American Seniors Housing Association, said the model makes sense, but he wasn’t sure how common it is nationwide, as licensing requirements for assisted-living facilities vary by state.

“I think people want to generally stay where they are to the extent that services can be brought to them,” Schless said. “As a general rule, that is something that the industry has really worked very hard to do over the past decades. It’s a consumer preference to not have to move as often.”

Eve Lewis, program manager for the office of long-term care facilities at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, said the department does not track how many facilities operate this way.

“I know there are others (in Nebraska) that have done this, but how many and how common it is, I couldn’t tell you,” Lewis said.

The somewhat rare model, at least in Nebraska, required the company to obtain licensing as an assisted-living facility throughout the building, which created some unique solutions that allow independent apartments to transition to assisted living.

Ovens and stoves in the independent-living apartments, for example, have a switch above them, allowing them to be turned off and locked if a resident transitions to assisted living.

Sliding glass doors in some apartments also are able to be locked from the inside so as not to present a safety hazard to a resident receiving assisted-living care. All apartments also are wheelchair-accessible, from walk-in showers to the lower kitchen counters and kitchen sinks with open space beneath them.

Licensing the whole building as assisted living also requires the company to create a written service agreement negotiated with each resident upon move-in, said Tracy Lichti, executive director of the Heritage at Sterling Ridge. The agreement must include services to be provided by the facility and from other sources, how often and when the services are provided.

Even independent-living residents will be assessed, Lichti said. She estimated about 60 hours went into the planning of the facilities’ policies.

“It’s the little things you don’t really think about … like how often does the trash go out,” Lichti said. Independent-living residents receive trash service every two weeks, while those in assisted living will receive weekly service.

The center will also check in with each resident once a month to do a short interview and vitals check. Everyone also will have an emergency call pendant and the ability to swipe a special bracelet to unlock the door to the apartment.

“You’re getting more than just an apartment,” Lichti said, although she noted that changes may need to be made once the facility opens its doors to residents. “We think we have it nailed out, how it’s going to go, but we’ll learn, we’ll tweak things.”

For example, all residents will eat in the same dining room.

“The goal is, we’re all going to eat together,” Jungman said. But that may not go over well with all residents, and some backup plans - like the ability to partition off part of the dining room - are in place.

The model makes sense, but extra licensing fees and required staffing may deter other businesses from doing something similar, said Cindy Kadavy, senior vice president of the Nebraska Healthcare Association. She didn’t know if there were other facilities that offered similar services. Checks with two local senior care providers found that they do not offer the same model and weren’t aware of any others.

“The goal is awesome, to allow an individual to stay in their own apartment as they need more care,” she said.

Lichti said she calculated that anyone living in the Heritage at Sterling Ridge or the Heritage at Legacy and receiving more than four hours of care per day from a home health worker would be better off upgrading to assisted-living care.

“The beauty of being licensed is those services are already provided (in house),” she said.

The independent-living apartments are already rented, with a waiting list at the Heritage at Sterling Ridge, Jungman said. Assisted-living apartments are about 60 percent full.

“Now we’re just trying to figure out the move-in schedule. They all want to move in the first day we’re open,” Jungman said.

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Information from: Omaha World-Herald, https://www.omaha.com


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