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Burlington County Times: Area senior communities looking to attract boomers

In her semi-retirement, Pat Kidd enjoys tennis every other day, plus daily trips to the gym and jet-setting around the world.

And while Medford Leas’ Lumberton campus is far from her plans to retire to Mexico, Kidd said she’s found the active senior lifestyle she’s always wanted.

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“The expectation of my parents’ generation was that you would live to your late 70s, maybe 80s, if you were lucky,” said Kidd, 65, who still works part time. “Now, I expect to be around to 100. It paints a very different picture than my parents’ generation would have seen.”

With more than 76 million American children born between 1946 and 1964, baby boomers like Kidd pose a tremendous opportunity for continuing care retirement communities like Medford Leas, which provide a continuum of care that ranges from independent living to nursing care. Yet, attracting this future generation of residents requires a shift in thinking away from the standard amenities, according to those who operate these communities.

“The boomers are the generation of customization,” said Dan Dunne, of Erickson Living, which owns 19 senior living communities throughout the country, including Ann’s Choice in Warminster, Pennsylvania. “They are the ones that have been living that lifestyle.”

Even though 85 percent of boomers surveyed recently by Realtor.com said they have no intention of leaving their homes in the next year — and only 7 percent of qualified seniors move into continuing care retirement communities — the coming wave of boomers represents a huge potential to become future residents, community operators said.

“(Boomers) are absolutely coming,” said Cindy Longfellow, vice president of business development, sales and marketing at Juniper Communities LLC, which owns Juniper Village in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, and other senior developments in New Jersey, Colorado and Florida.

“I’m a boomer myself,” Longfellow said. “Our tastes and desires are quite different than the group of seniors 85 and up that are in our buildings. The trend industrywide is in response to that coming age, and a desire to begin to attract those older boomers.”

The concept of the continuing care retirement communities has been around for more than a century, with roots in religious organizations that sought to provide care for aging members. The industry exploded during the 1970s, and again during the 1990s. Today, there are roughly 1,900 such communities nationwide, according to the American Senior Housing Association. The average residents are in their 80s.

Such communities attract people by offering them an array of independent living options — from apartments to townhouses — and promising assisted living or nursing home care as they age. They offer a variety of contracts, from prepaying for needed care (the most expensive option) to fee-for-service models, where residents pay only for what they need as they need it. Entry fees range from $20,000 to $500,000 or more, depending on home prices and the services seniors want, according to the housing association. 

While long-term health care is a primary selling point for these communities, boomers first and foremost want to continue their active lifestyles, industry experts said.

“In the back of the average prospect’s mind, it’s very much a health care-driven decision,” said Tom Mann, principal at Love & Co., a Maryland marketing and consulting firm that works with senior living communities. “But on the front side, I want to be able to almost sell myself that that (health) isn’t the driver. I want the sexy swimming pool and fitness center and restaurants. All the other stuff is what makes the steak sizzle.”

Dining’s in

Steak may be on the menu at many senior communities, but so are salads, grab-and-go sandwiches and, in some developments, cocktails.

Upgrading dining options to reflect changing tastes is something almost all communities are doing, operators said. Instead of institutional dining with few choices, senior communities are adding coffeehouse-style cafes with grab-and-go items or full-service, sit-down restaurants with multiple menu choices, including gluten-free and vegetarian options.

“What we see with the coming wave of older boomers is a desire to have that coffee shop atmosphere,” Longfellow said. “It may not be that they want a full restaurant-style meal. They may want a salad they can grab and take out back on the deck. We’ve even talked about looking at doing an internal ‘Blue Apron’-style (fresh meal delivery) service.”

Brenda Bacon, CEO of Brandywine Living, a Mount Laurel company that operates assisted living and nursing home facilities throughout the region, said boomers’ influence is being heavily felt already as they come in today with their own parents.

“Fifteen, 20 years ago, when people moved in, all they wanted was a small studio,” said Bacon, immediate past chairwoman of Argentum, a trade group for the senior living industry. “It’s not like that anymore. … They very much care about the accommodations. They want the choice of what they want to eat and when they want to eat it. They don’t want to play bingo. They want to go on a trip to the casino or to the beach, or to New York to see a show. Nobody’s just sitting around.”

Communities aren’t stopping with expanded dining options, either.

Seeking active lifestyles

Last year, Pennswood Village in Middletown, Pennsylvania, handed iPads to a group of prospective residents, including boomers, and asked them to tour the campus and give their thoughts. Marketing director Jennifer Doone said their responses indicated a desire for open floor plans in their apartments, upgraded fitness facilities and an emphasis on wellness.

“It gave us a lot to think about,” Doone said.

“They were comparing our fitness center to wherever they go now,” she added, noting that the community installed additional equipment, including a high-tech Cyberbike, as a result. “Even though I think ours is extremely nice compared to other senior living communities, we found it didn’t test as well as we had hoped. They have extremely high expectations in terms of fitness.”

Pennswood resident Marguerite Chandler, 74, said she and her husband were attracted to the idea of senior community living because it allowed them to pick up and go whenever they pleased.

“My husband and I are both very active in social justice concerns,” Chandler said. “We like spending our time working on those issues, rather than doing maintenance on a house, cutting lawns, taking care of all the things that come with owning property. It gives us the freedom to leave and go whenever we want, and we take our social activism with us.”

 

Kidd and her partner, Davis Henderson, 73, said they, too, enjoy the active lifestyle that living in a senior community affords.

“We can go to Spain, hiking, and just turn the key in the lock and not worry about a thing, and we’re gone for a month,” said Henderson, who has lived at Medford Leas’ Lumberton campus for six years — the last two with Kidd. “And, our neighbors. There are about 150 of us. It’s a group of mostly retired professionals and good, good people.”

One day, Henderson said he anticipates moving into the smaller independent-living apartments at Medford Leas’ main campus in Medford, where his mother once lived.

“Eventually I will end up there, but that’s not what I was ready for, quite frankly,” he said.

Building for the future

On a recent afternoon, giant yellow construction trucks rumbled over a plot next to the Masonic Village at Burlington in Burlington Township. Their goal: to clear the way for what Masonic Village leaders believe is the future.

Over the next several years, more than 100 retirement “cottages” will be built, offering independent living to seniors who wish to downsize, but not into apartments.

Len Weiser, executive director of the Masonic Village, said the building boom, as well as the move to create independent living apartments in the main building, is in recognition of the current and future needs of area seniors.

“The population that’s coming here and visiting us, they’re not wanting increased nursing home care,” Weiser said. “Not saying they won’t need it, but services are being provided in the least restrictive setting; people are staying in their homes longer, with added services. They’re coming to a campus like ours, with independent living, with added services.”

Robert Spence, 73, and his wife, Marion, 72, have sold their Cumberland County home in anticipation of being one of the first to move into a cottage next spring. They were attracted to the new homes because of their size (2,300 square feet), the ability to customize options, and the promise of future care if and when they need it.

“We were starting to talk about the rest of our lives,” Robert Spence said. “We have no children. We don’t have anybody to take care of us.

“I want to make a move when we’re in really good health, and we are.”

published by Crissa Shoemaker DeBree, staff writer, on August 20, 2017

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