Metro-East News

Senior living facilities: A growing need

Senior Living Facilities

Three seniors at St. Paul's Senior Community
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Three seniors at St. Paul's Senior Community

Three years ago, Marion Hatter moved into St. Paul’s Senior Community in Belleville with her husband, Isham, from their farm near town.

“We had to get off the farm,” the 86-year-old Hatter said. “It was a problem for emergency (vehicles) to get in in winter time.”

Isham died three months later, but Marion decided to stay after making friends at the facility. She also didn’t want to stay with her two grown sons, both of whom live in the Belleville-area.

“I had my mother with me for eight to 10 years, and finally had to put her in a nursing home because I couldn’t take care of her any more, and I didn’t want to put that on my family,” Hatter said. “I wanted to be as independent as I could.”

The number of facilities where seniors can spend their retirement has grown in the metro-east in recent years. And with more members of the Baby Boomer generation retiring each year, that need is expected to continue to increase.

These businesses ranges from independent living facilities, such as villas and condominiums, to assisted-living to full-care nursing homes. The middle ground, assisted living, are places where cleaning and meals are provided, along with certified nursing assistants who will check on residents and make sure they’re taking their medications.

According to Alton-based Senior Services Plus, there are 47,800 people over the age of 60 in St. Clair County. In Madison County, there are 53,000 people over 60.

The age group is expected to grow as 1,600 people a year in St. Clair County, and 1,700 people a year in Madison County will turn 60 for the next 15 years.

“I think there’s going to be a huge need ..., because of the huge senior population that is retiring in this metro-east area,” said Debra Pierce, St. Paul’s fund development director. “I believe that’s a huge base for employment with nursing. I think we’re going to see an expansion ... for a need for that. Someone does have to take care of the residents who are coming into these communities, and they like to see young people.”

Long-term care insurance is a real thing you have to look at. It’s getting harder and harder to buy. It’s expensive, prices have gone up, because people have realized how expensive it is to take care of (elderly) folks.

Susan Franklin, operations director for St. Paul’s Senior Community in Belleville.

St. Paul’s recently opened a $30 million modern wing to replace a nearly 90-year-old building, which workers are in the midst of demolishing.

It designed its new facility to get away from the stigma of a nursing home, even though it provides the same services, Pierce said. The new facility could house 134 people in private rooms with their own bathrooms and control over their own thermostat. The older building could house up to 175 people, but would have situations where 16 people would be sharing a bathroom.

The business would not have made the investment unless it believed there would be a demand for the service, said Susan Franklin, operations director for St. Paul’s.

“I think aging services is going to continue to grow,” Franklin said. “It changes and evolves, because … young retirees want a different lifestyle than someone who is 85. You have two different generations. The start and end of those Baby Boomers, they had a different lifestyle.”

Senior living facilities can be pricey

Franklin acknowledged living in this type of facility can be expensive.

Apartments could cost about $2,200 month, and would include meals, housekeeping and transportation. However if people need a higher level of care, it could quickly add up to $10,000 to $12,000 a month.

“Long-term care insurance is a real thing you have to look at. It’s getting harder and harder to buy,” Franklin said. “It’s expensive, prices have gone up, because people have realized how expensive it is to take care of these folks. And begin saving is the other thing. You’ve got to plan.”

She added sometimes a family house has to be sold to take care of retirees.

“It’s a painful process for a lot of folks, because they have to generate the money out of some place,” Franklin said.

In order to help people in financial need, non-profit facilities, such as St. Paul’s, raise money to help people stay in their senior communities, Franklin said.

Senior Services Plus provides resources and services to help keep seniors living independently in their houses as long as its safe, but it recognizes people may eventually need to move into some sort of retirement facility, said Theresa Collins, associative executive director of the organization.

While some of these facilities can cost several thousands of dollars a month, Senior Services Plus advocates for more affordable options.

“We know there is a need for different types of housing, most particularly in affordable housing,” Collins said.

In October, the Cottages at Cathedral Square opened in Belleville and provided 32 independent living units for seniors who meet low-income guidelines.

“Unfortunately we’re seeing a generation of seniors who did not plan as well as they could have,” Collins said.

Collins suggested portions of senior facilities be reserved for those who need a more affordable option. “Some high-end facilities are wonderful, but not everyone can afford $3,000 a month,” Collins said.

“Unfortunately what happens is an individual moves into a facility, they pay those costs as many months as they can, and money runs out,” she said. “They’re forced to look for a new home. A lot of times, that is a difficult task to face.”

In some cases, seniors may qualify for Medicaid, the state-run supplement program. But not all facilities take Medicaid, and reimbursement from the state has been slow, due to the state’s budget crisis.

About 1.3 million American seniors now live in nursing homes. According to, 70 percent of them rely on Medicaid to pay the bill, which means they are low-income or have otherwise spent down their assets. The average cost of a nursing home private room tops $83,000 a year.

New facilities opening up all the time

Other senior facilities in the metro-east have been constructed or had extensive renovations in recent years:

▪  The previously empty Colonnade in O’Fallon received a $13.6 million renovation and expansion before re-opening in 2014. The facility is now in the midst of another expansion of an additional 33 rooms, at a cost of about $5 million.

▪ The Atrium in Belleville has been in the midst of a multimillion-dollar renovation at its facility during the last two years.

▪  Cedarhurst Living has invested heavily in the last few years. It opened an independent and assisted-living facility in 2011 in Shiloh, a memory care facility in 2014 in Edwardsville, an assisted living and memory care facility in 2009 in Collinsville, and an assisted-living facility in February in Sparta.

The project costs varied, but ranged between $10 million and $25 million, said Lauren Robb, Cedarhurst marketing manager.

“Before we propose doing a development anywhere, there’s an extensive amount of research done for the community we’re thinking about building in and the surrounding communities,” Robb said. “We typically go into a community where there is a need for us.”

“The question to answer in every market is finding the right supply and demand ratio,” Robb added. “These areas have a large percentage of seniors to the overall population and there was not anyone filling the needs of many of these seniors.”

Advantages of living in a senior facility

Robb said many people begin considering a senior living facility for a parent after a fall, surgery, illness or a change in health or well being.

Being in a senior facility helps ensure the older person has three meals a day, some entertainment or socialization, and doesn’t have to worry about housekeeping or yard work.

“Safety and peace of mind is always first and foremost for our residents and our families,” Robb said. “But, we are finding that more and more seniors are attracted to senior living for the comfort and freedom that it provides.”

Many facilities, if they don’t have medical personnel on staff, will bring in nurses and trained physical therapists as needed.

1.3 millionAmerican seniors now living in nursing homes.

70 percentPeople in nursing homes who rely on Medicaid to pay their bill.

$83,000Average annual cost of nursing home private rooms.

At St. Paul’s, there are different levels of care, such as independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing care, memory care for those with dementia, and even a Medicare rehabilitation wing. This allows people whose needs may change, have their health deteriorate, or develop dementia, over time to stay in one location rather than having to look or have family members look for a new location.

Atrium Executive Director Mary Harris said the appeal of being in a senior facility that is independent or assisted-living is that there is no worry about doing property maintenance, and there’s someone available to watch the senior.

“You have to find the right person to either give the loving shove — ‘This option is better for you, you have people around the clock, you don’t have to cook,’” Harris said. “So many wait until a crisis happens.”

Finding a place for Mom and Dad

Ida Edwards Mercer, along with her three brothers, Ethan, John and Andrew Edwards, started discussing with their 92-year-old parents, Delwin and Marie Edwards, about making sure they had a safe place to be.

Marie broke her leg and it forced the issue. The family decided to have the couple, who lived in their Belleville house for 60 years, move to St. Paul’s.

They are going through rehabilitation and plan to move to the assisted living area.

Mercer said there was some discussion about having her parents move to Cleveland or in with one of her brothers in Belleville or St. Louis. They opted for the senior community in the town they’ve known their whole lives, instead of having them living with one of their children, all of whom have full-time jobs.

“Belleville is their home,” Mercer said. “We didn’t want to uproot them. They could come live with us, but we could not offer the kind of care and support because we’re out of the house much of the day.”

“They’re in a more fragile state and things can happen,” Mercer added. “It’s good for us to know they have a well-balanced meal and they’re not doing kitchen responsibilities any more.”

Lillian Miskimen moved into St. Paul’s independent living eight years ago from her Belleville home.

The question to answer in every market is finding the right supply and demand ratio. These areas have a large percentage of seniors to the overall population and there was not anyone filling the needs of many of these seniors.

Lauren Robb, marketing manager for Cedarhurst Living

“I was getting older, things happen with the house,” Miskimen said. “I was putting out a lot of money, this could go bad and that could go bad.”

She recently moved into an assisted-living level of care at St. Paul’s after suffering a stroke and heart attack. Nurses there help provide Miskimen with her medication.

“When you get older, you don’t want to mix up that medicine,” Miskimen said.

Gene Hausmann, 83, lives in an independent living unit at St. Paul’s. He stayed in his two-bedroom unit with a kitchen even after his wife, Mary Ann, died.

“I could be anywhere; I like it here,” Hausmann said. “I like the fact I don’t have the real estate to bother with, I don’t have to cook my own meals, and I don’t have to clean up afterward.”

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451, @JoeBReporter

At a glance

When the time comes to decide where your parents, grandparents or loved ones can go to live their golden years, there are two metro-east-based agencies that provide guidance and assist local residents:

  • AgeSmart Community Resources, (Area Agency on Aging), 2365 Country Road, Belleville, IL (800-326-3221) provides mobility assistance programs, meal plans, housing, assisting in accessing care and residential services, individual counseling, support groups and caregiver training. Online at
  • Senior Services Plus, 2603 N. Rodgers Ave., Alton (618-462-3298) provides a health-care transition program, home care, transportation, Meals on Wheels and personal emergency response program. Online at

By the numbers

St. Clair County

  • 47,800 people over the age of 60
  • About 1,600 people a year will turn 60 for the next 15 years.
  • According to U.S. Census figures, the average age in the county increased from 35.3 years to 36.9 years from 2000 to 2010.
  • The American Community Survey estimates the average age in the county in 2013 was 37.3.

Madison County

  • 53,000 people over the age of 60
  • About 1,700 people a year will turn 60 for the next 15 years.
  • According to U.S. Census figures, the average age in the county went to 38.6 years from 36.9 years in Madison County from 2000 to 2010.
  • The American Community Survey estimates the average age in the county 2013 was 38.3.

Source: Senior Services Plus