Seniors opt for group homes Independent lifestyle draws more elderly to assisted-living centers

Some oppose developments

Neighbors fear houses will increase traffic, hurt property value

July 26, 1996|By S. Mitra Kalita | S. Mitra Kalita,SUN STAFF

When Margaret H. Pfautz's family decided she could no longer live on her own, the 92-year-old Sherwood Forest woman feared she would lose much of her independence.

A year later, she says, she's having a fine time taking aerobics courses, talking politics, and eating lunch at fancy restaurants with her neighbors from Sunrise of Annapolis, an assisted-living center on Bestgate Road. No long corridors with fluorescent lights and nurses in white uniforms for her.

"One reason I like it here is because it is definitely so pretty," said Pfautz in her sitting room, surrounded by windows.

Pfautz is among the growing number of seniors in Anne Arundel County moving into assisted-living homes instead of in nursing homes or with their families. The county Department of Aging estimates that 250 seniors live in group homes from Linthicum to Harwood, up 25 percent from last year. And the facilities are scrambling to keep up with the county's quickly growing graying population.

Ten years ago, only two or three assisted-living facilities served the county. Today, there are 33.

Advocates say the centers are the future of senior housing. Yet assisted-living centers are not always welcomed by their neighbors.

Severna Park residents have been up in arms over a center that Colonial Manor Homes plans to open this fall in the 100 block of Arundel Beach Road. Despite residents' petitions opposing the project, the company has obtained a permit to start construction.

Greater Severna Park Council President Rick Zablocki said developers of the site were asked to submit alternate designs that reflect the residential nature of the area.

"We just ask that businesses don't exploit the community," he said.

Residents fear the centers will increase traffic and lower property values, but operators say they need not worry.

"They think of us as some big nursing home, but we're not," said George Wentz, president of Colonial Manor, which will operate seven facilities in the county at year's end. Four are open now.

His counterparts wonder whether the "not-in-my-backyard attitude" stems from discrimination against the elderly. Severna Park residents quickly disagreed.

"We're not discriminating against the elderly. We're discriminating against the commercialization of a nice idea," said Grace Durr, who lives across the street from Colonial Manor's future Severna Park site. "It has become a big business."

Assisted-living facilities that don't offer constant medical care charge between $1,500 and $3,500 a month to provide services such as helping residents with bathing, dressing, meal preparation and laundry. Nursing home rates start at about $3,000 a month and include medical care. Nursing home residents are eligible for Medicare subsidies, while most residents of assisted-living facilities are not.

About 80,000 Anne Arundel residents are older than 55, the fastest-growing segment of the population, according to Michael F. Banscher, the assisted housing program director for the Department of Aging. That number is expected to hit 125,000 by the year 2010, he said.

The providers of senior citizen housing must recognize that most people want to remain active and as independent as possible as they grow older, assisted-living operators say.

"Seniors are clearly looking for quality of life here," said Paul Klaassen, president of Sunrise. "We don't have to put the elderly away like we do."

The Department of Aging oversees group homes of four to 15 seniors. Larger facilities such as Sunrise fall under the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which also monitors nursing homes.

But there are similarities between the two, says Klaassen, of Sunrise.

There are no restraints, long hallways or nurse stations in the 92-bed facility in Annapolis, he said. You will find a beauty parlor, whirlpool and smoking room.

The 15-resident Country Grove in Harwood encourages residents to help plan meals, dress themselves and coordinate group activities.

"We try to treat it like a family situation with lots of interaction between everybody," said Country Grove owner Andrew Pappamihiel. "We don't want people sitting in their rooms."

That's one of the things James C. Pfautz sees on his daily trips to visit his mother, Margaret, at Sunrise of Annapolis.

"They really keep them busy," he said. "I don't think she could be happier elsewhere."

Pub Date: 7/26/96

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