Howard sees explosion in assisted living Large chains moving to take advantage of growing senior population

December 29, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

With its booming population of prosperous elderly people, Howard County is becoming a magnet for large, chain-owned assisted-living homes.

The number of beds in large facilities is nearly doubling -- to 519 -- with the opening last week of Marriott Corp.'s 102-bed Brighton Gardens in Columbia's Owen Brown village, and the scheduled opening in February of Care Matrix Corp.'s 125-bed Chancellor Gardens in the Village of Dorsey Hall.

Howard is graying faster than any jurisdiction in Maryland, with a 260 percent increase in seniors predicted by 2020. The senior population growth and the county's status as one of the nation's wealthiest areas are what attract companies like Care Matrix.

"On the basis of average income, Howard County is 10th out of 3,000 major metropolitan areas nationally," said James Jeffcoat, regional vice president for the Needham, Mass.-based chain. "Affluence drives the siting of these facilities," he said, since government programs do not pay for assisted-living homes, which serve elderly who don't need the more intensive care of a nursing home.

The large facilities are coming in on the heels of similarly rapid growth of small assisted-living homes, which have increased from 35 to 67 in the past three years and have a total of 490 beds. Small homes house up to 15 people.

"I think it's a nice combination [of housing] that's happening VTC here," said county Office on Aging Director Phyllis Madachy. "We really think the community benefits from lots of choices."

The proliferation of homes helps people like 96-year-old Corrine Smith stay close to relatives. "My children are the reason I'm here," she said last week, as she used a cane to navigate the brightly lighted, homey-looking lobby of Brighton Gardens.

Her daughter, Patricia McArdle, said the facility, a three-story brick building on Minstrel Way, "is only five minutes from my house," and McArdle's daughters live in Ellicott City and Catonsville.

"She drove until she was almost 90, but last winter she got sick and she wasn't able to return to independent living," McArdle said of her mother, who lived in Silver Spring.

The new, larger places are costlier than smaller homes, but they offer more services and activities -- like transportation, exercise and crafts rooms, and large public spaces -- often with separate units for people with dementia.

Compared with the $1,200 to $2,000 per month the small group homes charge, Brighton Gardens charges between $2,100 and $3,500 a month. Chancellor Gardens charges $2,880 to $3,900 a month.

Bethesda-based Marriott is due to open a similar facility on Reisterstown Road in Pikesville next spring, and plans a third in the 6400 block of N. Charles St. near Towson.

Smaller homes are facing increased pressure starting Friday when their supervision switches from the state Office on Aging to the state health department and its stricter regulations, worrying some county officials that home rates may rise and some may be forced out of business.

Partly for that reason, senior advocates are pleased to see the larger chains come in.

"With the great expansion in the number of seniors, we're not going to overbuild in the area of assisted-living houses. I personally went to one at Heartlands and they look like excellent facilities," said Charles Greenslit, former chairman of the Howard County Commission on Aging.

Pub Date: 12/29/98

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