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Assisted living homes seen less expensive option for senior care


For the past 14 years, Joseph Abell has enjoyed the woods, the view and the gardens at his modern Winfield home.

Last month he opened his home to seniors who need help with the tasks of daily living but don't require the skilled medical care of a nursing home.

The facility, called Bloom Valley Senior Care, provides residents with all their meals, laundry service, assistance with bathing, dressing and monitoring of medications.

Bloom Valley is the eighth senior assisted living facility to open in the county. Ninety-three seniors live in the homes.

Mr. Abell began converting his split foyer house to a home for seniors 18 months ago.

His old basement is now a kitchen and dining room, where seniors eat together.

An addition to the home accommodates 10 residents in eight private rooms and one double room. Mr. Abell also added a deck and a community sun room for residents' use.

Four people live at Bloom Valley. Under state regulations the maximum number of residents is 15.

Mr. Abell, a homebuilder, decided to open a senior assisted living facility because his mother had lived in a similar residence for six years.

"That's how I got the idea," said Mr. Abell, whose mother now lives in his home. "I thought I could do a better job than some of the existing facilities."

Mr. Abell and his business partner, Joscha Harris, cook meals for the residents and handle most of the day-to-day operations at the home. A nurse's aide is on duty around-the-clock.

Harris has worked with the elderly for several years in nursing homes and as a home health aide, but the state has no education requirements for operators of senior assisted living facilities.

The state conducts criminal background checks on owners of the homes and requires that they read materials that deal with seniors.

fTC Sharon Baker, the client services supervisor for the county Bureau of Aging, said she expects the state to establish minimum training and education requirements for providers of senior assisted housing because of the growth of such facilities.

The residences are meant to create a "home-like" environment for seniors.

"We tried to make our place light, with lots of windows to avoid the institutional look," Mr. Abell said. "We want the residents to think of it as home."

The facilities are monitored and certified by the State Office on Aging. The homes must be in a residential area, provide clients with 24-hour supervision and residents must be over age 62.

Other requirements vary, depending on local zoning regulations.

Economic factors and a fast-growing elderly population have contributed to the rapid increase in the number of senior assisted living facilities nationwide, said Ms. Baker.

"Most seniors want to stay in their own homes, but sometimes they can't," Ms. Baker said. "Generally, they feel it's [a senior assisted living facility] more acceptable than a full-scale nursing facility.

On the financial side, it's becoming increasingly difficult to obtain insurance coverage for nursing homes. Senior assisted living facilities are less expensive, although they're generally not covered by insurance, Ms. Baker said.

She said a need exists for senior assisted living facilities in the county, particularly for seniors with low incomes.

In Carroll, the monthly rent for such homes ranges from $1,200 to $1,800, while local nursing homes charge between $3,800 and $6,000 a month. Monthly charges at Bloom Valley are $1,800 for a single room and $1,500 for a semi-private room.

Although senior assisted living facilities cost less than nursing homes, Ms. Baker said that the price is too high for many seniors.

"They haven't planned enough to have that much of a monthly income," she said.

The state provides a limited amount of grant money to the counties each year to help seniors pay for assisted housing.

Twenty seniors are on the county's waiting list for subsidies.

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