Joint Venture Plans First-Ever Memory Care for a Native American Reservation

While talk of senior housing oversupply has developers scrutinizing new markets with extra care, there are some locales where private-pay communities are scant or nonexistent: Native American reservations.

Now, an operator and a private developer have teamed up and are trying to change that, at least for one tribe. The town of Salamanca in eastern New York soon could be home to the first dedicated assisted living/memory care community on a reservation.

If successful, the project could provide a model for other providers looking to serve Native Americans—an underserved demographic in part because of steep barriers to developing senior housing on reservation land.

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This lack of senior housing, and memory care in particular, is a looming “crisis,” according to Stephen Bowman, president of Peregrine Senior Living.

“Historically, it was thought that that Native Americans had a lower incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s, I think primarily because they were more tolerant of a lot of symptoms for cultural and spiritual reasons,” Bowman told Senior Housing News. “With more studies in recent years, it seems they may have a higher incidence [of dementia] and at an earlier age.”

Based in Syracuse, New York, Peregrine operates 15 facilities in five states: New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Georgia, and Colorado. The company is the operator and joint venture co-owner of the Salamanca project, called Peregrine Landing at Ohi: Yoh-Noh. Plans are to have 75 units, with 55 total assisted living beds and 45 total memory care beds.

There are a few other senior housing and care communities specifically geared toward Native American residents. However, the Peregrine project would be the first to bring a private-pay memory care option onto a reservation, Bowman believes. Salamanca is located in the Allegany Indian Reservation, governed by the Seneca Nation.

Development is challenging on reservations because investors and lenders are wary of the particular ways that land ownership and the justice system work in these areas, Bowman said. The key for Peregrine has been working with Western Door Development, its partner in the 50/50 joint venture. Western Door is a private firm based in Salamanca whose owners are members of the Seneca Nation.

“The partnership gives us access to financing comfortable with investing in a reservation,” Bowman said.

These entities include the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The development team plans to apply for a loan which would be 90% guaranteed by the Bureau, since the project is on Indian land. Peregrine and Western Door also are asking the city of Salamanca to provide about $300,000 in startup capital, to help gather information needed in order to secure a bank loan. The team is considering Key Bank as the lender.

The city’s Common Council is currently considering the request, the Salamanca Press reported.

There’s an economic incentive for Salamanca and the Seneca Nation to help the project toward completion, Bowman emphasized.

“[The project] is going to create about 300 construction jobs, create about 75 permanent jobs, and the community would purchase about $1 million a year in food and supplies, and possibly pay real estate taxes,” he said.

The total development budget is $16.45 million.

Longhouse-Inspired Senior Living

Peregine Landing at Ohi: Yoh-Noh would welcome residents from any background, but the building design and services are being angled specifically toward the Seneca culture, so that members of this tribe would be particularly comfortable, Bowman said.

In terms of the building design, it is drawing from the tradition of the longhouse, which was used by tribes in upstate New York as a place to meet, socialize, eat, and sleep. They typically were long structures with arched ceilings. The longhouse will be the “central architectural theme” of the Salamanca senior living building, according to the development planning document.

“An arched barrel vaulted form begins on the exterior of the building creating a porte cochere at the main arrival location to the facility, and extends into the interior forming a large lobby with numerous activity spaces opening onto to it,” the document states. “This longhouse lobby contains a water feature and fireplace as references to the historic longhouses.”

Other planned design features include earth-colored stone and wood flooring, birch veneer panels on the walls, and lighting elements that mimic being outdoors.

As for programming, Peregrine has experience in serving specific populations, with large Jewish and Irish-Catholic contingents at some of its other buildings. For Salamanca, the plan is for Seneca religious rituals and cultural practices, such as gardening, to be blended into the Peregrine approach to assisted living and memory care. Especially in the memory care setting, the Peregrine model is “180 degrees” away from the industry standard, Bowman said.

“The industry is focused on saving short-term memory with pharmacology and computer games, and we don’t believe those are very effective,” he said. “We embrace stimulating long-term memory.”

Three service levels are planned, ranging from $400 a month to $1200 a month, depending on care needs. Memory care opening rates are pegged at between $4,300 and $5,300 a month, and assisted living rates are placed between $2,650 a month and $3,200 a month. The development team has approached the Seneca Nation about subsidizing these costs for some residents.

Even without subsidization, it appears there would be sufficient demand to fill the building: the Salamanca market area currently has an unmet need for 214 memory care beds for income-qualified individuals, according to a feasibility analysis done by MDS Research Company. That number jumps to 1,700 people when income is taken out of the equation.

Not every tribe across the country would be able to subsidize rents, but even so, the Native American demographic should present private-pay senior living providers with growing demand in the years ahead, Bowman believes. Peregrine is focused on the Salamanca project at the moment, but this development could be the start of a longer journey toward serving other reservations as well, according to Bowman—and “journey” is at the core of the company’s DNA.

“Peregrine means pilgrim,” he said. “We’re all pilgrims on a journey, through our whole lives.”

Written by Tim Mullaney

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