By Holly Riddle
If you’ve read our previous coverage of the senior care industry in Happy Valley, you already know that much of the United States is headed for a “senior care crisis.” Not only is the population of seniors growing at what is purported to be an unsustainable rate, but the cost of senior care is, for some, described as “crippling.”
According to a 2023 Washington Post report on the subject, assisted living facilities, on average, cost residents $60,000 per year, while more specialized facilities, such as those for patients with dementia, cost residents $80,000 per year.
In State College specifically, the annual median cost of senior care is around $50,000–$60,000 for in-home or assisted living care, with nursing home facilities costing over $100,000 per year for even just a semi-private room. So, how will Happy Valley’s seniors pay for care in the later years of their lives?
Plan, plan, plan ahead
This issue isn’t new for local professionals who work in the industry.
Jennifer Getgen, executive director at Juniper Village Senior Living at Brookline, said that many seniors and their families are not prepared for the costs of senior care.
She said, “Selecting senior living options can be a very stressful time. It can be very confusing to determine what care is covered by Medicare and other government benefits, and what the out-of-pocket expenses would be. Long-term care policies might not cover everything. Seniors and their families may have in mind where they would prefer …for senior living communities; however, the cost of that community may be out of reach if they are unprepared.”
Mark Sapko, owner of Senior Living Placement Specialists, helps seniors and their families find regional facilities that meet their needs, at no cost to the seniors or families. He mentioned that assisted living personal care is typically not covered by Medicaid or Medicare. “At that time,” he said, “individuals would pay with money that they’ve saved… If they move into a skilled nursing facility, that’s where Medicare or Medicaid would be able to offer services.”
Finding the right resources
Luckily, preparing for the cost of senior care is feasible, and our interviewees in the industry offered some advice.
Getgen said, “It is never too early to start planning. The cost of healthcare in general is rising and there are many options for medical coverage; it’s not one size fits all. I would suggest consulting with a financial planner or senior care attorney. They are the experts in conserving assets and planning for senior living.”
At Valley View Retirement Community, director of admissions Kammi Booher likewise stressed the importance of planning for care costs sooner rather than later. CEO Nicole Sarver mentioned long-term care insurance as a viable resource.
Sapko also mentioned long-term care insurance but said it’s not an option that many seniors that he works with utilize.
Cost vs. value
While costs may initially appear to be an insurmountable obstacle, at Foxdale Village, Lisa Harrington, director of residency planning and marketing, cautions seniors to not immediately assume that they can’t afford a particular care option.
The cost factor is something of a misconception. Many people think that it’s cost-prohibitive to come to a community. If you begin to add up the cost of home ownership, living expenses, taxes, entertainment, food, gym memberships, and wellness programs — if you begin to think about your cost of living in your home and then you compare that with the cost of living in a life plan community such as ours, often people find that they're quite comparable, when they really sit down and they look at it side by side
She said, “Cost is always going to be a factor, no matter where you go. The best advice I have is to plan, start early, talk to their retirement planner, talk to their tax advisor and talk to the community. Get information. Fees are scary…Someone might look at the fees for a community and say, ‘Oh my gosh. I can never do this.’ Sit down and talk with someone at the community and have a financial analysis run…Talk to your retirement planner…There are multiple models of senior living healthcare… Simply looking at the fees does not tell the whole story.”
Similarly, also at Foxdale, Megan Clouser, director of health services, tells seniors to look at what they’re getting from the price of senior care services at a live-in facility, not just at the price alone.
“So many people look at the fees, but inflation hasn’t hit residents or people of this generation that live in communities, as much as it has hit people living independently in their homes, because they're not subject to the inflation of utility costs,” Clouser said. “You're not subject to food inflation to the level that a lot of people have been. While, financially, it looks hard on one side, there are so many other things that you're not subject to…”
Kristin Hambleton, vice president of sales and marketing at Presbyterian Senior Living, which oversees multiple properties in the region, including Westminster Place in Huntingdon and Windy Hill Village in Philipsburg, likewise noted the value seniors receive at the organization’s facilities.
Simply looking at the fees does not tell the whole story
She said, “The cost factor is something of a misconception. Many people think that it’s cost-prohibitive to come to a community. If you begin to add up the cost of home ownership, living expenses, taxes, entertainment, food, gym memberships, and wellness programs — if you begin to think about your cost of living in your home and then you compare that with the cost of living in a life plan community such as ours, often people find that they're quite comparable, when they really sit down and they look at it side by side.”
She added, “I would tell people to, even though they may come in with the notion that it's too expensive, at least take a look at something like a life plan community and whether or not it's a good fit for you financially.”
Additionally, on both Presbyterian Senior Living’s regional campuses, the organization offers affordable senior housing with rent limits based on the area’s median income.
Stay tuned for the last article in our senior care series, featuring tips to help seniors choose the best facility for their needs.