In a previous edition of Tompkins Weekly, we tackled the issue of affordable housing in the county, and throughout that investigation, several sources mentioned a need for all types of housing, including senior housing. But attempting to tackle senior housing head on proved a complicated task, as sources agree it’s not just affordable senior housing that’s needed; it’s a lot of other resources that help seniors live wherever they want to live.
In that spirit, Tompkins Weekly is diving into senior housing – what we have now, what’s still needed and why this matters.
Sources interviewed for this story discussed two main areas of improvement – the places seniors live and the resources that help them live there comfortably. The largest concern was that there is a lack of affordable senior living spaces.
“There’s a lot more demand than there is supply,” said Rodney Maine, aging services specialist at the Tompkins County Office for the Aging. “You have all these individual independent apartments that are designated age 55 and up, and they’re based on income, and they have waiting lists that range anywhere from six months to over five years.”
Maine said there is also a large need for Medicaid beds – housing residences that are entirely dedicated for seniors who use Medicaid to pay for the residence and its services. Currently, most seniors have to go outside the county to find a Medicaid residence.
Tia Sugrue, director of social services at Beechtree Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing, a senior assisted living facility that does accept Medicaid, said that, in addition to the need for more Medicaid beds, there needs to be more adult daycare facilities – places where caregivers can drop their aging loved one off to be taken care of while they’re away.
Beechtree Marketing and Community Liaison Kristine Morseman added that this need has only cropped up in the past few decades.
“We really haven’t had this problem before,” she said. “I’m in my 40s. I’m trying to still raise my kids and get them off and independent, but before that’s even happening, I’ve got my parents’ needs coming in.”
Melody Susco, director of property management at Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS), added that there also needs to be more supportive housing, where there are resources and care personnel in the same location as the living spaces so residents can get everything they need all in one place.
“Supportive housing is really great,” Susco said. “There’s just a lack of it, where they have the case workers and the case management right in the same building. ... I do see a need to have actual resources right in the same building for them.”
Housing isn’t the only need sources addressed; many called for more resources that help seniors age in place or maintain some independence in assisted living facilities. Foodnet Meals on Wheels Executive Director Jessica Gosa said that many seniors want to stay in their home as long as possible and they need resources to help them do so.
“Moving as an older adult into different accommodations or downsizing is incredibly stressful, so to the degree possible helping seniors maintain their independence safely in the community is always a preference,” Gosa said.
A last often-referenced area of improvement is in transportation. Morseman said that the bus system, while important for many residents, can be hard to keep up with and stressful for the senior population. Services like Gadabout provide transportation for seniors, but sources said more transportation options are still needed.
Why this matters
Addressing these residential and housing resources needs for seniors is a crucial part of caring for a population that continues to grow and contributes greatly to the community and the local economy, sources agreed.
Elizabeth Ambrose, founder of Bridges Cornell Heights, a senior living community on the Cornell campus, added that the next decade will see an even larger increase in folks who need senior living spaces and resources.
“2021, be ready,” Ambrose said. “That’s when the oldest of the baby boomers start to need care and services, and so, we are going to be faced with a huge population explosion of seniors in the United States.”And those seniors contribute greatly to local economies, as data can show.
People over 50 in the U.S. hold 83% of household wealth in the country, and that age group accounts for most of the spending in several categories of goods and services, including healthcare, utilities, motor vehicles and financial services, according to AARP.
In addition, that same group has a large philanthropic impact, giving the largest amount of any age group. Seniors give many volunteer hours to this community as well, as previously touched on by another Tompkins Weekly article.
“There’s a lot of vibrant seniors in this community that have a huge impact financially, economically,” said Lisa Monroe, director of the Tompkins County Office for the Aging. “Making sure that [seniors] stay well and that there’s places for them to live, work, thrive, is really important for the rest of the community and for all … to have an economically valuable community to be in.”
Solutions and strategies
To provide adequate housing and living resources for seniors, one of the most common strategies sources identified is providing plenty of opportunities for seniors to socialize and get involved in the community.
“Community is a big important factor,” said Cheryl Jewell, executive director of Love Living at Home (LLH). “A lot of people’s family move away. They lose connections from being retired, they don’t work anymore, and then, family moves away, so they become more isolated.”
Several sources suggested intergenerational solutions to address social isolation.
“There’s experience there between generations to share with one another that could give us insight on how to change programming in the future to care for people better in the future than we’re able to do now,” Maine said.
Ambrose especially said she’s seen success placing college students in the same residences as seniors at Bridges.
“I have been doing an experiment for the last three years studying how students can live with seniors under one roof … sharing the same kitchen and being part of our Bridges community, and it has been really successful, surprisingly so,” Ambrose said. “We’ve had such an overwhelming positive reaction from the families of our residents, our residents and the students.”
Ambrose said this practice is a win-win for those involved, providing students with cheaper living spaces and companions and mentors and giving seniors the socialization they need to stay mentally healthy. She said she’d like to see more housing that follows this sort of model.
As far as aging in place resources, Sugrue said building and modifying homes with senior care in mind can be an effective way to help seniors live in their own home for longer.
“Saying that you can meet the needs of an elderly population is great, but then when they need an adaptive door handle or they need the stove knobs lower, those are pretty expensive repairs, so building it with that population in mind is much needed,” Sugrue said.
And when it’s no longer economically, physically or emotionally viable to age in place, sources stressed a wider variety of independent and assisted living options for seniors.
“It would be incredible to have residential continuum of care communities that can accommodate low incomes, where independent, assisted living and nursing home care is available,” Gosa said.
Sources agreed that the most important method of tackling senior housing needs is by making it a collective effort.
“[We need to get] a good group of diverse people in Tompkins County together from different organizations that do work with the senior population and talk about what the needs and wants are,” Jewell said.
Recent news that partially inspired this investigation was the purchase of Lansing’s Horizon Villages by Bridges Cornell Heights and its partners in early January.
Horizon Villages is an independent senior living community in the village of Lansing that comprises seven neighborhoods, each containing six town house residences with patios or decks, attached garages and full basements, according to a recent press release. There is currently a waiting list for the community, as all 42 units are currently occupied.
Ambrose said she sees Horizon Villages as a fitting addition to Bridges due to the many resources the community offers seniors, including storage space and socialization resources.
“I like the idea of a well-run senior living organization that is a moderately priced option for seniors,” Ambrose said. “It has a lot to offer its residents. It’s not just an apartment; it’s a real community.”
Senior living was in the news again in late January, when LLH announced the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York had awarded LLH a grant to help support its scholarship fund. The scholarship fund supports LLH’s Sponsored Membership Policy in which LLH members to whom the membership fee is a barrier can be sponsored to reduce or eliminate that fee. Jewell said this goes a long way in helping all seniors get the resources they need to age in place.
As many sources interviewed can attest, there are many organizations, companies and groups that currently provide living spaces and senior living resources to the county, so many that it would be impractical to cover them all in this investigation. Thus, let’s look at just some of the resources sources highlighted.
Longview, a residential care facility located in Ithaca, is a not-for-profit, fee-for-service, continuing-care retirement community, as Executive Director Mark Macera described.
“Longview is one of the few if not the only residential care facility that will provide assisted living, admit individuals who are low-income, extremely low-income and those individuals that qualify for supplemental security income under Social Security,” Macera said.
Longview offers three main types of housing: independent, assisted living and enhanced assisted living.
INHS has several senior-centered and senior-friendly housing complexes in its catalogue, including Juniper Manor I & II in Trumansburg, Newfield Garden Apartments in Newfield and Breckenridge Place in Ithaca.
The Juniper Manor and Newfield Garden Apartments are age-restricted residences designed with senior needs in mind. Breckenridge Place is a mixed-income apartment community in downtown Ithaca that, though not age-restricted, is mostly populated by seniors.
Bridges Cornell Heights, an enhanced assisted living residence in Ithaca consisting of six main residences, provides 24-hour supervision by a trained caregiver, medication management, nutrition counseling, laundry service and other resources to its residents.
Located directly across from the main complex is Bridges’ seventh residence, The Craftsman, an independent senior living residence that provides independent housing with supportive resources close by.
Beechtree, as Morseman described, has 40 beds on its first floor, which are designated for rehabilitation services, 40 beds on its second floor, dedicated to skilled nursing, and 40 beds on its third floor, used primarily for dementia care. In addition, Beechtree has a respite program that can take care of an aging individual while their loved one is away for an appointment or a small vacation.
Other resources in the county that are not residences include Love Living at Home, Foodnet Meals on Wheels, the Tompkins County Office for the Aging and Lifelong. LLH, established in 2016, is a nonprofit that provides a variety of services to help seniors age in their homes with a network of volunteers who do things like take seniors to appointments, clean their gutters and make home repairs. Jewell said LLH also represents a wide community of members who can support each other.
“We’re just here to be able to help the aging population in Tompkins County however we can,” Jewell said.
Foodnet Meals on Wheels provides home meal delivery, social dining and comprehensive nutrition services, which include nutrition education, nutrition counseling and nutrition assessment, according to Gosa. Foodnet also provides referral coordination to address needs that surface during that assessment. Foodnet serves meals to seniors at Titus Towers in Ithaca, Center Village Court in Groton and the YMCA of Ithaca and Tompkins County.
The Tompkins County Office for the Aging mainly provides information and assistance in referrals that can lead to options counseling. The Office for the Aging has numerous programs to help keep people in their homes and age in place safely, including its Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP).
The office’s resource guide, available on its website and through the mail, lists housing spaces in the county at all levels of care, like independent, assisted living, enhanced assisted living and nursing home facilities. The office can assist seniors in their applications to any residences on the list. Monroe said this guide is one of the most important housing resources the office provides.
“Sometimes people don’t know exactly what they need or what they’re eligible for, so that housing guide is a resource for us and for them,” she said.
Lifelong provides a variety of services to support seniors, including classes, demonstrations, activities, exercises and other get-togethers, according to Executive Director Lucia Sacco.
“We’re really about keeping people active and engaged and learning and teaching and volunteering and just trying to show what it looks like to age well,” Sacco said.
Look to the future One project on the horizon for senior living is Library Place, a partnership between Travis Hyde Properties and Bridges Cornell Heights set to open this spring. Library Place, built on the site of the former Tompkins County library on West Court Street, is for tenants ages 55 and up.
The project will include 66 units, with one-, two- and three-bedroom options available, according to the project’s website. Prospective rents range from $1,900 per month for a one-bedroom apartment up to $3,000 per month for a three-bedroom apartment.
Amenities include a restaurant, home health services from an on-site agency, community room, gardens, fitness rooms, pool and parking. Lifelong will be providing on-site activities and programs, something Sacco said she’s looking forward to.
HOLT Architects’ Tom Covell, project manager for Library Place, said those amenities are part of what makes senior housing design different from all-ages housing, as older populations tend to need more on-sight services and nearby resources.
HOLT’s Graham Gillespie, the principal-in-charge for Library Place, said he’s glad he was able to help design an important project for a group he cares about.
“We’re just happy that we’re able to provide a significant number of apartments and living spaces for a segment of our society that is underserved right now,” Gillespie said.
Overall, sources stressed that seniors play a crucial role in a community, and ensuring that they have adequate living spaces and resources to live comfortably is beneficial not only for them but also the entire county.
“Our older adult population brings a tremendous amount of value to our community through education, experience and so much more,” Gosa said. “We want to make sure that our community is where older adults feel engaged and want to retire and to stay.”
And though housing is among the largest need for this age group, there are many other factors that contribute to a healthy, comfortable living environment for aging residents.
“I’m sure that a lot of families, the more secure that their parents or their grandparents are being cared for, I think it makes everybody feel better,” Susco said. “We’re all going to get there one day, and it’s nice to know that people care you’re living a healthy quality of life.”
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