Seniors losing homes in continuing care communities

seniors dancingSeniors who were in good health when they signed contracts with continuing care communities -- communities that promised to care for them as they aged and needed assisted living or nursing care -- are now finding those contracts to be just empty promises. Many of these continuing care and assisted living facilities are facing bankruptcies with seniors left to find new homes at a time when they can no longer care for themselves. Some of these seniors thought they had bought into a permanent care facility they could depend upon until they died, but now if they need additional care, they must find new accommodations.

Continuing care communities were a retirement dream for those who could afford to pay. A person usually put down about $150,000 on an apartment (that number varied depending on apartment size and location) with the promise that they would have a place to live until the day they died. To qualify, seniors had to be able to live independently when they first moved in. Some would make their own meals, and some would choose to eat in a common dining room. All would pay a certain amount per month for needed services. Those who required more than basic services would pay according to the nursing or other services they needed.At some point in their lives, these seniors would likely need more intensive care. The first step above independent living would be assisted living. When full-time nursing care was needed, the senior would then move into a nursing home environment. All types of living arrangement would be available in the same community, and when the senior signed the initial contract, they were promised they'd have a place to go when they needed a higher level of care within the same community. That way they could make friends in the community and keep them no matter what level of care they needed.

As initially planned. these communities would include all three levels of care -- independent, assisted living and nursing homes. But as the economy turned downward and fewer and fewer people could afford to even buy into these communities, those already inside started to find the costs getting higher. The companies that run these communities also found that with fewer residents, their operating costs meant these facilities were no longer profitable. In some cases, the higher level of care facilities were never built.

Now these retirement dreams are being shattered as continuous care communities are filing for bankruptcy, including such facilities as Erickson Retirement Communities, which manages 19 continuing-care retirement communities in 11 states. Erickson, which has been operating such communities since 1983, assures its current residents that their deposits for their apartments are safe even though it filed for bankruptcy because the deposits are held by a separate, non-profit entity. But seniors living in these bankrupt communities may find that the assisted living or nursing home facilities are never built and that they must move out of what they thought would be their final community to whatever might be available when the time comes for additional services.

If you're thinking of moving into a continuing care community or are seeking one for your parents or grandparents, be sure all the different facilities within the community are open and operating. Also be sure to have a lawyer who specializes in elder care law take a look at the contracts. You can find such a lawyer at the National Academy of Elderlaw Attorneys.

But not all seniors finding themselves homeless are living at continuing care communities. Some are living in assisted-living facilities, which are also facing a severe downturn. For example, Sunrise Senior Living lost $82 million in the third quarter of 2009 and announced plans to sell 21 of its assisted-living communities. Sunrise operates 382 communities in the United States, Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom, with a combined unit capacity of approximately 40,175 units. Assisted living communities operate on a month-by-month lease, but many seniors actually move into them with a plan to stay for life.

Making a decision to move out of a family home and into a continuing-care or assisted-living community can be a difficult decision for the senior, as well as for other family members helping seniors make the move. Now many elderly people and their families are having to face that decision again as their communities are shut down.

Do your homework when thinking of placing a family member into a long-term care situation. Find out if the community is finished. If not, make sure construction has at least started on the assisted living facilities and nursing homes. If it hasn't, you're taking a big risk that your elder will need to move again. And, no matter what you do, don't sign any contracts for long term care unless you've had them reviewed by an elder care lawyer.

Lita Epstein has written more than 25 books including The 250 Eldercare Questions Everyone Should Ask and Working After Retirement for Dummies.

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