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Building a CCRC without walls

October 30, 2012
by Julie Thompson
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Hermann Weiss has never considered moving into a continuing care retirement community even though some might think he should at least entertain the idea at his stage in life.

Long-term care facilities are a foreign concept to the 75-year-old man, who is now retired from his post as a professor at the University of Michigan. Weiss grew up in Germany, where he watched his grandparents and father live out long lives at home until they passed away in their early nineties. His hope is to do the same here in America.

So, while he never gave much thought to moving into a CCRC, it was actually a LTC community that he turned to in order to make his dream a reality. In 2010, Steve Hopkins of Evangelical Homes of Michigan visited the community where Weiss and his wife live and talked about the CCRC’s new LifeChoices program. The main goal of the program: To help seniors stay in their homes longer.

LifeChoices had just been created and was a new concept for Ann Arbor-based Evangelical Homes, a 133-year-old CCRC which serves 2,300 older adults at its brick and mortar campuses throughout southeast Michigan. The product line was a bold step in an industry that has traditionally worked to bring people onto their campus, not to help keep them at home. The product offers an innovative option to the age-old in-home services business, and is currently only one of a dozen like it in the nation.

LifeChoices brings a variety of services typically offered at a CCRC to an individual’s home, and helping them stay there, secure in the knowledge that help is just around the corner as their needs change over the years. This subsidiary and service line allows Evangelical Homes to reach older adults before their health and wellness needs start to decline, allowing them to provide healthcare in a proactive manner that eventually leads to lower healthcare costs and less hospitalizations.

The idea was extremely appealing to Weiss, who is remarkably healthy and active for his age. He invested in LifeChoices and immediately took advantage of some of its wellness programs. Today, he’s visited both by a physical trainer and a massage therapist, twice a month.

“I am physically fitter than I was four or five years ago,” says Weiss, who now spends three hours a day swimming at a nearby lake. “I hiked mountains in Oregon in August and could climb steep hills more quickly and with more agility than in the past. I am now a part of a network that supports me in my endeavors and as I get older I know I will be able to rely on their services even more.”

SERVING A NEW SENIOR

Evangelical Homes President and Chief Executive Officer Denise Rabidoux would say Weiss is the reason her community took the leap into in-home services two years ago. LifeChoices was the answer to a question Rabidoux posed to the community’s board of directors when she first took the helm in 1999.

“I asked the board of directors to go on a journey with me to learn about the future of older adult needs and desires and to gain their support to really start to focus not just on the seniors we are caring for, but the group of older adults who would never drive onto our campus or live in our buildings,” Rabidoux says.

Rabidoux’s request of her board was a valid one. At the time, statistics showed that up to 95 percent of older adults were living in their home and not in a congregate living environment. A good portion—or 90 percent—of those adults would live out their life without ever moving onto a CCRC campus. And their own experience told them that the average person moving into their community was much older and frailer than in decades past.

A variety of factors were increasingly shaping the trend. A sharp jump in the older population—to 70 million from 30 million—played a significant role. A softer economy was another. A dip in investment values and flat home sale prices were forcing older adults to rethink their retirement plans and to sit tight where they lived. The average senior was unwilling to take a hit on their home just to move into a new community.

“Where in our organization’s strategic plan did we decide that we weren’t going to care for those older adults?” Rabidoux says.

The conversation led to an intense and strategic market study, which began with generic numbers and eventually led to intimate discussions with older adults sitting around living room fireplaces and in church fellowship halls. Evangelical Homes first asked seniors if their first choice was to live at home, and when they answered with a resounding, “Yes,” they asked what they would need to make that happen.

Older adults wanted security, wellness, healthcare services and environmental assistance in their home. They wanted access to the evolving benefits of a CCRC without having to go on campus to get it. Evangelical Homes knew it was time to expand, but this time, without adding another building.

BUILDING A CCRC WITHOUT WALLS

The catalyst for Evangelical Home’s entrance into the in-home services market was its purchase of two companies: one which was currently offering private duty services, such as personal care and support, and another that conducted Medicare in-home healthcare services. The purchases allowed Evangelical Homes to quickly gather knowledge and information on the market and create a foundation from which the other aspects of LifeChoices grew.

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