Construction on senior-living projects sprouting up across county

Some question whether economy, technologies will diminish demand for traditional facilities

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter



Clark County senior living developments planned or in the works

Elite Care at Sylvan Park

• Scope: A 48-unit memory-care facility that will have two sets of four buildings connected by a breezeway on a 3-acre site. An on-site gardening program will allow senior residents to participate with gardening maintenance and harvests. The center will integrate technology within the center that allows families to monitor the progress and well-being of their loved ones.

• Where: 2410 N.E. 112th Ave., Vancouver.

• Cost: $14 million.

• Developer: Elite Care, Portland.

• Timeline: Expected October opening.

The Hampton at Salmon Creek

• Scope: A development with 43 rooms -- 25 semi-private and 18 private -- for seniors with memory issues such as Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Developers say the center will be built with extra-wide hallways, secure interior courtyards to provide a calming environment. Care will include 24-hour, on-site, licensed nurses and a comprehensive diabetic-management program.n Where: 2305 N.E. 129th St., Vancouver

• Cost: $8.5 million.

• Developer: Koelsch Senior Communities, Olympia.

• Timeline: Expected to break ground in September for opening in June 2013.

The Quarry Senior Living

• Scope: A 72-unit addition to an existing 223-unit community. The new wing will include 59 apartments for seniors with assisted-living needs and 13 new apartments for independent seniors. It is the last phase of construction at The Quarry, which is also adding a new pet-friendly, fenced dog park, where resident dog owners will be able to let their dogs run leash-free.

• Where: 415 S.E. 177th Ave., Vancouver.

• Cost: $8.25 million.

• Developer: Gary and Christine Rood and Barclay Armitage, Vancouver.

• Timeline: Expected spring 2013 opening.

Glenwood Place Senior Living

• Scope: An addition of 24 assisted-living apartments, expanded commercial kitchen and a new 2,550-square-foot sky-bridge gymnasium/exercise room. The project will be the fifth phase of development for the 301-unit Glenwood Place. Its developers say they expect to implement a final phase of development that will eventually add 40 residential units devoted to memory care.

• Where: 5500 N.E. 82nd Ave., Vancouver.

• Cost: $3.56 million.

• Developer: Gary and Christine Rood and Barclay Armitage, Vancouver.

• Timeline: Expected spring 2013 opening.

A building boom in senior-living projects across Clark County is planning to add 187 units of assisted-living, memory-care and independent-living apartments to a market already served by dozens of facilities offering similar services.

But as the $34 million in construction is just getting started, some local experts question whether there will be enough business to fuel the expansion. Some point to evolving technologies in health care and patient monitoring that are enabling seniors to stay at home longer. Others worry that Clark County's market for costly senior living is being overbuilt at a time when the elderly and the up-and-coming baby boom generation are struggling to rebound from the recession.

"I call it feeding the dinosaur," said Randy Scheel, co-owner of three Vancouver-based communities that offer care to seniors. "There are going to be facilities going out of business across the country and in our own community. To a great extent, the premise is based on an outmoded model of care."

The view isn't shared by the Portland-based developers of Elite Care, a $14 million community in Vancouver that will specialize in care for individuals with advanced Alzheimer's disease and dementia. The company is building a 48-unit community on Northeast 112th Avenue called Elite Care at Sylvan Park, where an on-site gardening program will encourage senior residents to stay active and help provide nutritious meals.

"When we did a survey, we found there is a real need for our company in Clark County," said Justin Adams, the company's creative director. "There's a lot of assisted living and a lot of adult homes, but in terms of the things Elite Care offers, its nonexistent."

Adams said demand for Elite Care's service is being driven by the desire of baby boomers to have their elderly parents living nearby and by today's longer-living older population.

According to the Alzheimer's Association research group, nearly 1 in 10 Americans older than 65 have Alzheimer's, while 50 percent of those older than 85 have it. As the baby boomers — the large population born between 1946 and 1964 — age, the percentages of the population older than 65 and 85 will increase.

Corporations that cater to seniors are banking on the projected need for care among Clark County seniors, a forecast backed up by a report, "Growing Older in Clark County," released this year. The report foresees the proportion of people 60 and older increasing by 158 percent to represent about one out of every four residents by 2030, largely because of the aging baby boomers.

Founders of Elite Care — husband-and-wife business partners Bill Reed and Lydia Lundberg — launched the business 13 years ago after their experience trying to find a Florida facility for Reed's mother. During their search, the couple found they would not want to move into any of the communities they toured. It's one of the reasons they launched Elite Care, which owns and operates memory-care complexes in Milwaukie, Ore., and Tigard, Ore.

Creative Director Adams said Elite Care staff are experienced in caring for residents with late-stage memory issues, a next-level service that will be fed by the county's large network of adult family homes.

"They provide excellent care, but it often isn't the level of care that Elite Care provides," he said.

Reed and Lundberg are marketing their memory-care model to the elderly parents of baby boomers and to the boomers themselves, Adams said.

"We're trying to fill our communities, and at the same time, we're preparing people to decide where they (boomers) want to go," he said. "This way, they've already done their homework."

But that homework often leads to sticker shock. When adult children realize their parents need care, many are surprised to learn most assisted-living care is paid out of pocket; Medicare does not cover it, said Kathy McLaughlin, owner of A Caring Heart Senior Housing Referral Service in Vancouver.

"You can take Mom or Dad home and care for them," she said. "But that's very difficult work and very hard on families.

McLaughlin, who works to help seniors find housing when they can no longer live at home, conceded that falling home values and dwindling stock portfolios could deliver a blow to the assisted-living industry. The downturn already has affected the retirement, or independent-living market, designed for seniors who do not need physical assistance.

"That took a hit when the economy turned," McLaughlin said. "People are staying in their homes longer until they need help."

In Clark County, costs at assisted-care communities begin at about $3,500 a month and can reach $6,000 for Alzheimer's patients who require around-the-clock care. The area also is served by nearly 300 adult family home businesses that often can provide a less expensive assisted-living option.

"If it's just for memory needs — Mom is pleasantly confused, and she forgets how to turn on the stove, but she is not combative or a wandering risk — you can get into a good adult family home starting at about $2,500 (per month)," McLaughlin said. "But as her needs increase, the costs go up."

Some expect new, innovative technology will meet a growing number of care needs for the "Silver Tsunami," the coming rush of aging baby boomers who are also more tech savvy than the previous generation.

Scheel said he expects to see an increase in telemedicine. The rapidly developing software applications allow patients to transfer medical information to their care provider through the phone or the Internet. He uses the hypothetical "Mrs. Jones" to press his point.

"Perhaps Mrs. Jones has congestive heart failure and is a diabetic. In order for her to be able to stay at home, she's going to wake up and take her blood pressure, temperature and heart beat. She punches it in, and it goes automatically to a monitoring facility," Scheel said. "In other words, she is connected to her care providers and medical team."

Such systems are the future of health care, according to Scheel, who has observed many changes in the senior-care industry after more than two decades in the business. He his wife, Vicki Scheel, co-own The Park Lido, a 45-bed assisted-living community; and Caretique, a memory-care facility. She is also the administrator he is the strategic planner for Fort Vancouver Convalescent Center, which is owned by Dorothy and Mel Jackson.

"Fifty or 60 years ago, people either lived at home independently, found themselves in the hospital or went into a traditional nursing home," he said. "Today, we have so many different levels or niches of care."

He said people no longer check into a skilled-nursing facility never to return to their homes. Scheel said he often sees those patients recover from surgery with the help of a good physical therapy regime.

"We're seeing that many people who used to be in traditional nursing care can now be cared for at a lower level of care," which is why Scheel said he questions the rush to build more senior communities based on traditional models of care.

But whether the market will become overbuilt is likely to remain a matter of debate among some senior care operators as technology evolves and the economic downturn continues to play out.

Tammy Thwaite, a co-owner of LifeStyles Senior Housing Managers LLC, which manages 11 senior communities in three states, said she continues to see a market for needs-based memory care and assisted-living care, although demand has dropped for independent living. It's one of the reasons owners of one of the two Vancouver facilities managed by her company switched gears on expansion plans for the east Vancouver development, The Quarry.

At one time, the 72-unit addition called for 17 new independent-living apartments and 55 for assisted-living units. New plans now call for 13 independent and 59 assisted units.

"The buildings in Clark County are still averaging in the high 90s for (percentage of) occupancy," Thwaite said. "But what I've noticed is more requests coming in for assisted living and memory care."

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story has been changed to reflect a correction. Fort Vancouver Convalescent Center is co-owned by Dorothy and Mel Jackson.

Cami Joner: 360-735-4532, or