Spring Real Estate 2003

Publication Date: Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Retirement living
Life Care and Continuing Care offer choices to seniors

by Kate Lilienthal

It's 5:45 a.m. Trudy Sherlock dons her running shoes and steps out for a brisk 2-mile walk followed by some light weightlifting at the gym. By 7:30, she's dressed and ready for a healthy breakfast in the dining room.

Sherlock is a vibrant, 87-year old resident of Channing House, a retirement community located in downtown Palo Alto, one of several local facilities that offer seniors the security of health care and companionship.

Sherlock sold her home in Los Altos and moved to Channing House 11 years ago. "I was planning for my future. I didn't want to become a burden to my children. Moving to Channing House was my gift to them."

Fellow resident Betty Jo Hedges shares the sentiment: "I moved into a residence program so that my three children would never have to decide what to do with 'Old Mom.' 'Old Mom' made her own decision."

Making the decision to move to a retirement facility is similar to choosing a college. There are many options, and individuals look for the lifestyle that matches their interests and abilities. In addition to cost and location, factors to consider include availability, activity programs, exercise facilities, physical setting, meal plans, opportunities for spiritual growth, social ambience and health care offerings.

Medical plans at the popular local residencies fall into two main categories: Continuing Care and Life Care. A Continuing Care program usually includes assisted living but not skilled nursing. If skilled nursing is required, residents move to a separate nursing home. The cost of the nursing home is sometimes, but not always, covered by the residence. Individuals maintain their own health insurance.

A Life Care community is a specific type of Continuing Care community. It offers the lifelong security of all levels of care -- skilled nursing, physicians and, if needed, hospitalization -- at no additional cost. The Life Care arrangement frees the individual from unanticipated health expenses. The entry and service fees cover health insurance provided by the facility.

All residences require applicants to be physically and mentally able when they enter.

If you're not an early bird like Sherlock, a typical day at a retirement residence might begin with breakfast in the dining room followed by reading the newspaper in the library. Then it's off to a committee meeting, a trip to town or some volunteer work. You may return for lunch, or perhaps today you'll catch a bite downtown. The afternoon involves a serious game of bridge. Cocktails begin at 5 p.m. sharp in a neighboring unit - B.Y.O.B. (bring your own bourbon).

It's been a full day, but after dinner, you take in a slide show of a friend's recent trip abroad. That is, unless there's a special event such as a music performance or a party.

The trend among retirement communities is that people are moving in at increasingly younger ages. Seniors are taking more aggressive steps to plan for the future and secure their "golden years."

"People are proactively divesting themselves of a lot of 'stuff' and starting off in a new direction - teaching, traveling, working in the community. They're freeing themselves up from the day-to-day drudgery of managing a household," said Letitia Roddy, Channing House admissions coordinator.

"I couldn't be happier than I am here," said Sherlock. "I see my family every Thursday night for dinner, I do volunteer work in the community, I travel and I have lots of friends. I've even dated."

Among the most well-known residential facilities locally are Channing House and Webster House in Palo Alto, and The Sequoias in Portola Valley. They differ in services, philosophies and social cultures.

Channing House

Channing House was founded in 1964, when Dr. Russell Lee, founder of the Palo Alto Medical Clinic, sought to establish a nonsectarian, nonprofit, independent residence for local seniors.

Channing House is a Life Care community with a wait list that ranges from six months to two years for a studio and up to eight years for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment. With more than 200 units, it is a large complex that includes assisted living and skilled nursing facilities. From the large lobby with adjacent library and game room to a dining room, fitness room and several lounges, common areas are welcoming and well-used.

Entry requires a non-refundable fee that ranges from $92,000 to $430,000. Monthly service fees that cover three meals a day, weekly housekeeping, laundry, cable TV, activities, van transport and medical management vary by unit size but average about $2,700 per month.

In addition to a full roster of activities, regular intellectual programs reflect the interests of the residents, many of whom are Stanford emeriti professors and former administrators. The majority of residents are single and in their mid-80s. "With excellent care and freedom from worry, residents tend to live longer than average," said Roddy.

At Channing House residents manage the whole facility by committee. Sherlock and Hedges have both served on myriad committees, including entertainment, music and the resident's council.

Hedges moved to Channing House two years ago when her husband passed away. She didn't want to live alone and welcomed new friends.

"I feel like I'm back in college. It's like living in a dorm without having to study," she said. Hedges chose Channing House because of the congenial atmosphere and convenient location - a short walk to downtown Palo Alto.

Webster House

A few blocks away from Channing House stands Webster House, a much smaller retirement community with only 38 units in a more intimate, small hotel-style building.

Webster House is a Continuing Care, not a Life Care facility. The entrance fee covers full medical benefits, including outpatient medical care and assisted living at home. Webster House does not offer on-site nursing home care, but will pay the average amount of a semi-private room in a local nursing facility.

Most units at Webster House provide spacious designs with full-scale kitchens. The meal plan includes six dinners a week and one lunch, with popular entertaining and catering facilities. Activities cover the gamut of arts and entertainment available in the area.

Also, Webster House allows small pets.

Membership fees range from $550,000 to $900,000; however, 70 percent of the fees and 25 percent of the appreciation is refundable to residents and their heirs. The monthly service fee is the same for all residents: $2,936 for one person; $1,751 for a second person.

One point of difference: While Channing House and The Sequoias have age limits of 83, Webster House has no upper age requirement.

Bob and Helen Moulton moved to Webster House a year ago after Bob suffered a series of small strokes. They chose Webster House because Bob was over the age limit for the other local facilities and they liked the more intimate layout.

"We wouldn't change our decision. We like everything about Webster House --especially the food!" he said.

The Sequoias

The Sequoias is a Life Care facility in the country setting of Portola Valley. It is operated by Northern California Presbyterian Homes and Services, a nonprofit religious organization, but its admission policy is nonsectarian. In fact, the community takes pains to promote diversity among its residents.

The Sequoias, referred to in the community as "the campus," sits on 42 acres and borders 2,000 acres of public open space. With peaceful views of Portola Valley, easy access to hiking and planned activities that include gardening and bird watching, it's ideal for those who like the outdoors.

The design is Japanese-style, with ground-level apartments clustered around private courtyards. Private patios display a variety of blooms year-round.
The entrance fee, ranging from $50,600 for a studio to $575,400, is non-refundable, but like Channing House, it guarantees your health care needs for the rest of your life from assisted living to skilled nursing. A doctor from the Palo Alto Medical Clinic is available by appointment five mornings a week. Monthly fees average about $2,500 and cover all services.

Most of the 315 residents come from within a 15-miles radius of the campus, and enter between the ages of 72-76. Applicants are asked to identify a two-year window when they would like to join - even if that window is 15 years away.

"The community represents an unusually even ratio of men to women, and pets are welcome, but must be "interviewed," said Sherry Carter, director of marketing.

John and Phyllis Johnson lived in Menlo Park for 50 years before moving to The Sequoias in 1998. When looking for a retirement facility, they sought a Life Care program in a pastoral setting. Friends pointed them towards The Sequoias.

"We wanted to come when we were still young enough to enjoy it," said John. In addition to a full roster of volunteer activities and cultural events, Phyllis photographs the campus and environs for the monthly newsletter, and John plays tennis every Sunday morning on the neighboring courts.

"The important thing in moving to a retirement facility," John added, "is to do it while you're still young enough to enjoy the community and make new friends. If you wait, you'll miss out on all the fun."