Assisted-living facilities are thriving in Carroll

As the population ages, alternatives to traditional nursing homes proliferate

February 16, 2000|By Jean Marie Beall | Jean Marie Beall,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Ruth Martin, a former nursing home worker, saw the need for alternative care for the elderly long before assisted-living homes began proliferating in Carroll County.

"I felt there had to be some kind of alternative for people," said Martin, who began operating an assisted-living facility, Country Companions, about five years ago. "There were so many people in nursing homes that didn't require nursing care. This kind of care was somewhat unheard of."

A decade ago, about 20 assisted-living facilities operated in the county, compared with 50 today. Not only is Carroll's population aging, but many newcomers are bringing their parents and placing them in nearby assisted-living facilities, county officials say.

"There is a tremendous interest in building assisted-living facilities," said Sharon Baker, client services supervisor for the Carroll County Bureau of Aging. "It is an up-and-coming thing."

The definition of assisted living, according to the Bureau of Aging, is long and complicated. But in short, it is a matter of offering a less intensive level of care than is provided in a nursing home. While nursing home residents require closely supervised medical care, most residents in assisted-living facilities do not receive medical services from the facility, although they may be available, depending on the level of care the facility is licensed to provide.

"Nursing homes provide medically skilled care," said Aidet Munoz, assisted-living program coordinator for bureau of aging.

Medically skilled care is care provided by someone who has received special training, such as doctor, nurse or physical therapist.

"In the past, the perception of assisted living was that it was a small group home," she said.

"Currently it is the level of care that determines the difference between assisted living and nursing home settings."

According to the bureau of aging, new regulations that took effect January 1999 divided assisted-living facilities according to three levels of care they are licensed to provide.

"The level of care is established by an assessment tool that considers such factors as behavioral and medical administration needs," Munoz said. "The client's physician and the provider conduct the assessment."

Baker said an example of a person with Level 1 care needs -- the lowest level -- would be someone who could take his or her medicine without assistance.

"A Level 2 person is one who can take his or her medicine, but sometimes needs to be reminded or has a physical problem which causes them to need assistance," Baker said. "A Level 3 person is one who can't take his medicine by himself, either because he doesn't know how or he doesn't have the physical and mental ability to do so."

Munoz said the regulations have changed the philosophy of assisted care.

"The philosophy before was hands-on care," she continued. "Now the philosophy is aging in place and quality of life."

Country Companions, as its name suggests, is located among farms and fields in rural Carroll. Martin's facility is licensed for all three levels of care, though she only has residents who fit into the lower and moderate care categories.

Residents in assisted-living facilities can be as young as 18, but most range from 62 to 98, Baker said. The average cost ranges from $1,200 to $3,200 a month, depending on the level of care.

Assisted-care providers want to spread the message that not everyone who needs assistance belongs in a nursing home.

"The people who need to be in nursing homes should be there," said Jim Rowe, a registered nurse and owner of Brookfield Manor in Keymar. The people who need assisted living should be in assisted-living facilities."

Brookfield Manor, a 19th-century estate, was a nursing home from 1959 to 1975. Rowe's mother worked there for 10 years, and he worked his first summer job there. That led to his decision to pursue a career in nursing.

After the owner of Brookfield Manor died, Rowe's mother inherited the property. In 1992, Rowe decided to reopen the property as an assisted-living facility. The property is on more than 6 acres.

"When it was a nursing home, people stayed in their rooms," he said. "Some people were bedridden. Now people here are more independent. Now we're more like a family. When you get too large, you lose some of the hominess."

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