Flexible Care Models, Licensing Keeps Independent Living Competitive

During the economic downturn, the independent living sector was hit with steep drop-offs in occupancy and a more sluggish rebound compared to assisted living. In response, some providers are getting creative in ways to spur on the slow-but-steady climb to recovery. They’re also looking to face the upcoming challenge of preparing for the future wave of boomers and what they’ll want. Here is the first of a two-part series looking into a couple different ways of providing consumer-oriented independent living. 

The National Lutheran Communities & Services (NLCS) organization, based in Rockville, Md., has seen “explosive growth” in the past three years and continues to evolve the senior living services it offers, including its most recent venture: to license its independent living units so that assisted living services can also be provided.

Flexibility is the name of the game when designing independent living communities, especially considering a new generation of older adults who will have their own sets of demands and expectations as to what a senior living community should look like, and the kinds of services they can access.

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The NLCS has expanded from a sole group home in the Washington, D.C. area to a corporation that is running or in the process of developing four communities. Its original community model was similar to a continuing care retirement community, but without an assisted living section. When it opened in 1895, the thought was that people would move into the independent living section, and then eventually go to the 300-bed skilled nursing center, says Courtney Malengo, the director of public relations for the NLCS.

But as the community’s residents—some of whom lived there for well over 20 years—transitioned through the aging process, the organization saw a gap in care.

“We realized we need to better serve residents who are currently here, and prepare for future generations as well,” Malengo says.

There weren’t a whole lot of options for residents beyond going to the 24-hour skilled care facility if they wanted to age in place, she says, adding that it came down to a “critical need to better care for our seniors.” 

“Our impetus was, how do we best serve our seniors and be sure we can be on the cutting edge of technology, and harness resources so we can serve the people who come to our community in the future?” says Malengo. 

After the NLCS acquired independent living community The Legacy at North Augusta (in Staunton, Va.) last year, it decided it wanted to be able to provide assisted living services.

“In most traditional CCRCs, even at communities that offer independent and assisted living, if you’re a couple living together and one requires more services than another, you have to move into a different space and get separated from a loved one,” Malengo says. “We were going through the process and asking, ‘Why is that the model? Why should that be the case?'”

And so the NLCS embarked on a new concept of home- and community-based services: allowing people in independent living cottages to receive light levels of nursing care in their homes. 

That way, says Malengo, couples don’t have to be separated—an important aspect considering the emotional trauma that can stem from separation. 

The organization recently received provisional licensing from Virginia’s Social Services Department to begin offering assisted living services in an independent living setting at The Legacy, and its Winchester community, The Village at Orchard Ridge, wants to deploy the same model.

“It allows us the best of both worlds,” Malengo says. “It gives us a bit more flexibility, and allows us to meet the needs of both independent living and assisted living residents without that being a traumatizing event.”

Written by Alyssa Gerace 

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