Continuing-care retirement communities worth a look

A continuing-care facility might be right for some Maricopa senior citizens. [file]

More than 2,000 continuing-care retirement communities exist nationally. They include all phases of senior living: independent, assisted, memory care and skilled nursing, packaged into a single location or campus — which might be right for some Maricopa seniors.

Ron Smith Maricopa
Ron Smith

These communities, sometimes called life-plan communities, provide flexibility for spouses or partners who need differing levels of care to live in the same community for the rest of their life, remaining in the place they call home.

Most of us are familiar with the traditional combination of independent living, assisted living and memory care. That’s how the proposed Season’s Living facility at Copper Sky has been structured. Caliche Senior Living in Casa Grande has assisted living, memory care and short-term living options. But only a CCRC will provide the full spectrum of lifestyles from independent living to skilled nursing. They work under the concept of “life care.”

A CCRC community offers benefits:

  • The independent living component often offers greater housing choices.
  • Access to onsite advanced health-care options is available.
  • The levels of health-care options support a couple with different health-care needs.
  • Staying on the same campus as needs change increases social interaction and preserves friendships.
  • A maintenance-free lifestyle is provided.
  • Tax benefits are possible.
  • Aging-in-place in this consistent and predictable environment eliminates the uncertainty of where to go next.
  • Peace of mind is provided for residents and their families.

There are unique characteristics of a CCRC to consider:

  • Substantial entrance and monthly fees.
  • Contracts requiring the advice of a financial planner and/or an attorney.
  • Possibly suffering financial loss if a for-profit CCRC goes bankrupt or is sold.
  • Potential long wait lists or limited choices because of high demand.
  • Possible cognitive or physical health requirements to be eligible.

What questions must you ask if you are considering a CCRC?

  • Do you have the financial resources to “buy into” a CCRC?
  • Are you ready to spend the rest of your life in this location with these people?
  • Would maintenance-free living improve the quality of your life?
  • Does this CCRC have the amenities you desire?

How do I evaluate a CCRC community?

  • What services are included or are available in the contract?
  • Are you able to add the services you desire at an optional cost?
  • Is there occupancy capacity at each of the various levels of care?
  • Have there been any major fee increases over the past years? What’s the pattern?
  • Is the ownership a nonprofit or a for-profit organization?
  • Do they provide assurance that care will be available even if you outlive your financial resources? This scenario is often referred to as benevolence care.
  • Can any portion of your entrance fee be refunded in the case of death or relocation?
  • Is the CCRC’s skilled-nursing unit a Medicare-certified facility?
  • How safe is the community?

What kind of costs can I expect?

  • An average CCRC entrance fee, according to CBRE Group, is about $329,000. They can range from $100,000 to $1 million.
  • Monthly charges can range from $1,000 to $4,000 per person depending on the contract. They are likely to change over time as health-care services change.
  • The cost of a CCRC can be a bit complex. For example:
    • There are six types of monthly contracts.
    • Selection of contract type depends on specific needs of the resident.
    • Contracts can be adjusted to best support care needs of residents drawing upon all CCRC resources.
    • Additional fees to plan for include, but are not limited to, pet deposits, maintenance, phone and utilities, TV and internet, wellness programs, parking and storage.
    • Factors that can affect overall costs include whether you rent or own your unit, size and location of your unit, your insurance coverage and type of contract you sign.

How does buy-in benefit me?

  • Buy-in and monthly fees can be used to guarantee housing and medical care throughout your life.
  • Locking in low monthly fees seems prudent in a world of rapidly escalating medical expenses.
  • If you choose to age-in-place in your own home, there is no guarantee you won’t experience an unexpected medical or living cost. Choosing a CCRC is a method to reduce or contain uncertainty in trying to age-in-place in your own home.

Are there different types of CCRCs?

Yes. There are traditionally structured CCRCs that look like a resort. I recently visited The Terraces of Phoenix in the heart of Phoenix. It is among seven CCRCs nationwide to be recognized by U.S. News as a “Best Continuing Care Retirement Community.” If you prefer a more academic environment, you may want to look at Mirabella on the ASU campus. At Mirabella you can be immersed in a lifelong learning partnership with ASU.

Should I consider a CCRC? Is it right for me?

Given the wonderful climate of the Phoenix area, there are many more excellent CCRCs spread throughout the Valley. Therein lies one of the problems if you currently live in the Maricopa area. CCRCs are expensive and typically located in more-established and upscale communities. If you have a cadre of friends and activities that you have established here, uprooting yourself to a new area may disrupt your lifestyle. You may be unwilling to do that. However, if you are a relatively new retiree and have the financial resources, moving to a CCRC may be a good choice.

It can provide the peace of mind and lifestyle that you may desire in your retirement years.

Ron Smith is a living-in-place advocate, a member of the Age-Friendly Maricopa Advisory Committee, a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist and a Certified Living in Place Professional.