A cruise ship on land: The new normal in senior living means pulling out all the
The walls of the main dining hall with vaulted ceilings and the wine bar are ready to go up.
Two other dining rooms — with their floor to ceiling windows — are taking shape, as is the lounge with the fireplace, which is not far from the indoor theater, health club and drawing room.
And from the terrace in a two-bedroom apartment on the third floor, you can take in the courtyard, where the greenhouse, cabana, bocce ball court and children’s playground are getting their finishing touches. You can see it all from the granite topped island in the kitchen.
Welcome to Thrive in Montvale, a 203-unit building under construction. Thrive may resemble the type of luxury- and amenity-filled apartment complex millennials are flocking to, but it’s actually the newest entry into New Jersey’s red hot market for high-end senior assisted living.
The apartments are targeted to active adults age 55 and over who live independently, but also people who need assistance every day because they have trouble walking, using the bathroom or getting dressed in the morning. There also will be memory care units for residents who may be homebound with a cognitive deficiency.
“If you strip away care, the old notion of senior living is not a place you would choose to live in. I know I wouldn’t,” said Jeramy Ragsdale, Thrive’s founder, who added the company was considering as many as three additional New Jersey sites. The Atlanta-based company currently has facilities in 13 states.
Ragsdale said seniors, who are living longer and tend to be healthier, demand an engaging environment with modern conveniences where they can live long-term, enjoy friends and family, and still have the option to “age in place” with increased care if they need it.
“The evolution we’re trying to achieve is the latest and greatest version a consumer would want to choose (with) the availability of care should you need it,” Ragsdale said. “Montvale is the first in a strategy we have in New Jersey and New York. Fast forward a few years, and we intend to have a presence here.”
Health and Human Services says 70% of adults who live to age 65 eventually will need help doing at least two basic daily activities, such as washing or dressing; 48% will receive paid care; and 16% will suffer from dementia. The risks are higher for women.
The coronavirus pandemic’s staggering death toll in nursing homes and the isolation many seniors faced at home have forced families to rethink how they care for a burgeoning elderly population. The recalibration has resulted in a boom in the assisted-living industry in New Jersey, according to Grand View Research, which estimates the market nationally at $83.2 billion.
Thrive and other high-end providers emphasize comfortable living in well-appointed apartment complexes with spa-like facilities, fancy eating options and social directors to coordinate a myriad of activities. Thrive even operates a coffee shop open to the general public and athletic club offered for use by Montvale’s police and fire fighters.
This modern senior housing represents a wholesale departure from the visiting nurse, family caregiver or hospital-style skilled nursing institutions of the 1970s.
“There is definitely a movement toward beautiful buildings that make the assisted living concept very easy to accept,” said David Stamberg, who owns a franchise of Senior Care Authority in Bergen County.
“I hear from families, ‘I promised I would never put my mother in a nursing home.’ Well, assisted living amenities are a cruise ship on land, and more and more families accept that they would want to have a senior living there,” he said.
The movement toward ‘cruise ships on land’ is 40 years old and still evolving. Park Place in Portland, Oregon, opened in 1981 as the first modern assisted living facility, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. It had private rooms with doors that locked, 24-hour staffing for medical emergencies, as well as community areas for social interaction.
Today’s accommodations are palatial by comparison. Health and wellness programs and services are priorities at the most well-heeled facilities. The recently opened showcases in New Jersey – Sycamore at East Hanover and Allegro Harrington Park – have spacious apartments, gyms, juice bars and indoor swimming pools.
“The industry as a whole is moving toward valuing the experience of each individual resident. We start all the design about what’s normal in your day-to-day life and bring that in,” said Les Stretch, Thrive’s president.
“There is a demand for something different. They just don’t want the old folks home their parents or grandparents lived in,” he said. “There are families that would like this type of atmosphere. They feel more comfortable in it and they would like to have their mother and father there.”
This new level of accommodations and attentive care carry a hefty price tag.
Thrive’s prices ranges from $5,500 to $9,500 per month, which senior consultants say is middle of the road for New Jersey’s luxury senior accommodations. They said prices can surpass $15,000 monthly as seniors add additional personal care and food service options.
Howard L. Pearl, a family adviser and owner of CARENET in Hackensack, said seniors and their loved ones must confront a concerning reality: How long can they afford a private-pay senior living facility?
“Companies are trying to tap into the more affluent market of people who can afford that,” Pearl, a former licensed nursing home administrator, said of upscale senior accommodations. “What happens if they run out of money? Are they going to allow them to stay?”
Americans are financially stressed and worried about not having enough money for retirement. More than two-thirds of Americans have less than $3,500 of personal savings, according to research by the Motley Fool.
Women are especially hard pressed for retirement funds because they traditionally have made significantly less than men in the same jobs and typically have been the primary caregivers to children, their parents or both. People of color are also overrepresented in low-income jobs so they also face shortfalls in retirement savings.
Jennifer Schwalm, leader of the accounting firm Baker Tilly’s senior advisory practice, said privately owned operators in New York and Northern New Jersey, aside from the high cost of land and construction, also face the challenge of finding enough employees to run these new staff-intensive facilities.
“We’re seeing a lot of struggles of getting staffing at all levels. Not just the nurses but the housekeepers and maintenance and dinning workers,” she said. “They have many options now that are paying competitively.”
Stretch said there were enough high net-worth seniors, demand for quality housing and competition to justify Thrive’s entry into the New Jersey marketplace. The company, which has already begun collecting rental deposits, is focused on signing seniors who live in the Montvale area, he said. The facility will start moving in residents in spring 2022.
“We start with. ‘Where do we want to grow old and age’? Right in the middle of the fabric of the community where you spent the best years of your life,” he said. “And if possible, go visit some of the same places.
“Where you build matters and what you build matters. The risk is the same in New Jersey anytime you start something that has never been done in a local area,” Stretch said. “We’ve looked at what’s being built. We feel the risk of doing something new is worth it.”