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This article by Flora Davis was prepared for the June 23, 2004

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Moving On, But Staying Close

As soon as Stonebridge opened its doors last December, the exodus

began: 152 Princeton senior citizens closed up their houses and moved

five miles north to this brand-new continuing care retirement

community (CCRC) in Montgomery Township. Many of the seniors who left

had had distinguished careers and were active in the community – in

politics or business, on boards of trustees, as volunteers.

What persuaded these people to part with family homes they had lived

in for decades and move – not to a retirement community in Arizona or

California – but to Montgomery?

"We had two reasons for going to Stonebridge," says A.C. Reeves Hicks,

79. Hicks grew up in Princeton, graduated from Princeton University

(Class of 1946), and became a well-known attorney, now retired from

Drinker Biddle Reath on College Road. He and his wife, Joan, were two

of the four co-chairs of the Princeton Public Library’s fund-raising

committee. They lived on Westerly Road.

Hicks explains that they chose a CCRC because neither of them wanted

to live alone in a big house once the other was gone; the lifestyle in

a CCRC guarantees friends close by. Secondly, they didn’t want to

become a burden to their children. CCRCs provide a continuum of care:

residents generally start out living independently, but if their

health fails, they can move to an assisted living or skilled nursing

section.

Why Stonebridge rather than a retirement community in the sunny

southwest? Hicks recalls that "some of our friends did move away and

we wondered how they could start a new life at age 70 or thereabouts.

Those who did so successfully generally went to a place where they had

spent many summers or where they had children. We opted not to leave

our friends. A lot of our family is also here."

The concept of a continuing care community is about half a century

old. Meadow Lakes in Hightstown was one of the first CCRCs on the East

Coast. When it opened in 1965, it, too, inspired an exodus from

Princeton because then, as now, Princeton Borough and Township had no

senior housing except for low-income elders. Like Stonebridge, Meadow

Lakes was built by Presbyterian Homes and Services, a nonprofit,

non-sectarian corporation on Roszel Road that now owns four New Jersey

CCRCs.

There are more than 2,100 CCRCs in the United States, 23 in New

Jersey, the majority built by nonprofits. Their great attraction for

seniors is the promise of health care in old age, but they also offer

many other services. Stonebridge residents need never mow a lawn or

dust an end table again; they can even give up cooking. Their monthly

fee covers – among other things – weekly housecleaning, linen service,

and one meal a day in one of the dining rooms; most people choose

dinner. Some make their own breakfast and lunch, but others have those

meals, too, in the dining room and pay at the end of the month. For

recreation, there’s an indoor swimming pool, a fitness center, a

greenhouse, a library, a computer room, a large auditorium, and more.

Stonebridge is a complex of clean-lined, beige-shingled buildings on a

40-acre campus off bucolic Montgomery Road, set in 160 acres of

preserved open space. Residents in its independent living section are

housed mostly in 196 apartments in two- and three-story wings

connected to the main building. Every apartment has a screened porch

or balcony, and many look out on a central courtyard called the Green.

It was unadorned mud when the first tenants moved in last winter but

is now living up to its name. Twenty four cottages on the perimeters

of the complex are also reserved for independent living. The health

care center, which is in a different wing, has 60 suites for assisted

living and 40 rooms for those who need skilled nursing.

Because the health care center hasn’t yet received its certificate of

occupancy, it won’t open until later this month. Three cottages and 11

apartments are still available in independent living, as are 37 suites

in assisted living. Eventually, Stonebridge will have about 400

residents. The independent living section already has 241, almost two

thirds of them ex-pats from Princeton. The women outnumber the men by

about two to one, and roughly one quarter are couples.

Reeves Hicks and his wife knew in the early 1990s that they wanted to

live in a CCRC. They discussed the decision with their grown children.

Their daughter, Lindsey Hicks, who lives in Hastings-on-Hudson, New

York, recalls that "all of us had invited them to live with us at the

next stage of their lives." Her parents, however, had taken care of

their own elderly parents years earlier. "It was very hard, and they

didn’t want to put us through that," she says.

Beginning in about 1996, Hicks became part of a small organization

called Princeton Retirement Communities Inc., which tried for years to

have a CCRC built in Princeton. They failed but found a possible site

in Montgomery when Ingersoll-Rand closed its plant there. The group

worked with Montgomery Township to develop a plan. Ultimately the

township, the state, and a couple of environmental organizations

jointly bought the property, setting aside 160 acres as open space

while zoning 40 acres in the center for senior housing.

In 1999 Presbyterian Homes was chosen to develop the housing. When the

marketing office opened late that year, Reeves and Joan Hicks put down

a deposit on an apartment, as did a number of other distinguished

Princetonians. "It was sad to have that kind of talent have to leave

town," he says.

The list of Stonebridge residents reads like a Who’s Who of older

Princetonians. Many had distinguished careers and were – or are –

active as volunteers and on boards of trustees. To mention just a few:

Attorney Gordon Griffin was a co-chair of the library’s fund-raising

committee, along with the Hickses. Eleanor Angoff and Elaine Schuman

were key participants in the struggle for a CCRC in Princeton. Both

are members of the Coalition for Senior Housing, which is headed by

Angoff.

Tom Hartmann, who once served on the Princeton Township Committee and

still sometimes gives lectures on politics at Rutgers, is on the board

of New Jersey Policy Perspective, a Trenton think tank. His wife,

Martha Hartmann, has been active in a number of area organizations

concerned with civil rights and human rights. Henry Drewry taught at

Princeton High School early in his career (one of his former students

is a fellow Stonebridge resident). Later he taught at Princeton

University, and later still, he worked for the Andrew W. Mellon

Foundation as a program associate.

William Stoltzfus Jr., served as the U.S. ambassador to Kuwait and to

four other countries in the Middle East. Robert Geddes was the first

dean of the Princeton University School of Architecture. Herbert

Hobler founded Nassau Broadcasting and radio station WHWH.

Two other former Princetonians were involved for many years in the

struggle to build low-income and affordable housing in town. Ted Vial

was a founding member and first president of Princeton Community

Housing, while Harriet Bryan, also a former president of PCH,

championed the development of Elm Court for low-income seniors. Rita

Ludlum, a former president of the League of Women Voters of the

Princeton Area, was on the board of the Princeton Adult School for 10

years. Many other Stonebridgers also made major contributions to their

community.

To get into Stonebridge, applicants went through a process that

assessed their financial as well as their physical health. Most

seniors can’t afford to live in a CCRC. Typically, residents must pay

a hefty entrance fee plus a monthly service charge. The fees are high,

says Eric Gurley, chief financial officer of Presbyterian Homes,

because of the cost of building a place like Stonebridge: $95 million.

He notes that some companies construct high-rise CCRCs with 2,000

apartments, and they can charge less because of economies of scale.

In New Jersey, CCRC entrance fees range from under $200,000 to above

$500,000. At Stonebridge in independent living, they begin at $118,000

for one person in a one-bedroom apartment and top out at $618,000 for

a three-bedroom cottage. Single residents pay between $2,276 and

$4,730 as a monthly fee (the average in New Jersey is $2,500). Couples

pay somewhat more, an extra $1,250 per month for the second person and

$20,000 more in their entrance fee.

While the entrance fee sounds like the purchase price of a new home,

it is not. It is a contract. What residents buy at Stonebridge is not

an apartment or cottage but the contract that entitles them to their

living quarters plus services. Under some circumstances, part of the

entrance fee could be returnable.

The price structure is complicated because there are 12 different

types of apartment, separately priced, three different configurations

in cottages, and three contracts, each of which lays out a different

plan for paying for health care – but more about that later.

Hicks and the other Stonebridge applicants provided financial data,

which were analyzed using a computer program that took into account

their age, state of health, assets and income, what they would spend

at Stonebridge, and the anticipated rate of inflation, along with

other factors. Presbyterian Homes had to make sure they would not

outlive their assets. No one failed to qualify for financial reasons.

What if the calculations were wrong and eventually some residents

could no longer pay their monthly fee? Would they be ejected? CFO Eric

Gurley explains that Presbyterian Homes has a foundation that supports

people in such cases, provided they have maintained their assets "in a

prudent fashion." In other words, they can’t just give all their money

to their children. At any given time, the foundation subsidizes about

a dozen individuals at four New Jersey CCRCs.

The applicants were also required to have medical exams, and eight or

nine were judged unable to manage in independent living. All reapplied

to assisted living at Stonebridge and were accepted. There they will

have help available if they have trouble moving around, for example,

or dressing themselves. The assisted living and skilled nursing

sections have their own common areas and dining rooms, and their

residents can take advantage of all of the community’s amenities. For

seniors whose memories are impaired, there’s a separate, secure area

called Taylor Commons. Lori High, vice president of marketing and

sales at Presbyterian Homes, explains that individuals in independent

living who have a health crisis can move to assisted living or skilled

nursing temporarily and return to their own apartment or cottage once

they’re able.

Hicks recalls the year before Stonebridge opened as a somewhat anxious

time. There were delays in the construction, and the families didn’t

know whether to put their houses on the market. Real estate brokers

were also worried about what would happen when 200 houses were up for

sale all at once. Their fears, as it turned out, were groundless,

because housing prices in Princeton were not affected – even though

entire streets at Queenston Commons sprouted for sale signs.

When the Hickses did put their house on the market, it promptly sold,

but Stonebridge still didn’t have a date for opening. They decided to

move in temporarily with one of their daughters in nearby Pennington.

While they were packing, Joan Hicks had a stroke. As she began an

arduous recovery, three of their daughters rallied around and finished

the packing for them.

Lindsey Hicks observes that downsizing is hard. Her parents were

letting go of possessions they’d had all their lives and also of a

lifestyle.

"It’s another stage of life for the children, as well," she says,

"another stage of our responsibilities to our parents." She notes that

the seniors who moved to Stonebridge gave up homes their children

might be attached to. The Hicks had lived in their last Princeton

house for just 10 or 12 years, but it had been the familiar context

for many family gatherings. "Now we had to find a new context and a

new way to be together," she observes.

Stonebridge opened officially on December 15, and the Hickses moved in

on December 29. Gradually, other apartments were occupied, and Reeves

Hicks was pleasantly surprised. The grandson of a state senator, he

had gone to the Nassau Street public school in Princeton, and some of

his former classmates now turned up at Stonebridge. "People we had

known for 50 or 60 years but hadn’t spent much time with became close

friends, either again or for the first time," he says.

There were entirely new friends, as well, for Stonebridge makes it

easy for residents to meet. Someone entering the dining room alone,

for example, is generally welcome at any table with an empty seat. The

need for privacy is also respected, however. Hicks says, "If my wife

and I want to have a meal alone, we either go to a table for two, or

if one isn’t available, we tell the hostess we’d like to eat alone."

In March, Hicks became chairman of the Interim Residents’ Executive

Committee, which represents the residents when problems arise. When

Stonebridge opened, for example, there were no grab bars in the

bathrooms. "We argued strongly to have them installed," he says.

Stonebridge reflects new trends in retirement living in several ways.

High notes that the average age of the residents is about 80, and that

in general seniors are waiting longer to move into CCRCs. When Meadow

Lakes opened in the mid 1960s, the average age at entry was just 65;

some of its current residents have lived there for almost 40 years.

Not surprisingly, since people are older now when they come to a CCRC,

they progress through the continuum of care faster. As a result, newer

communities are building more assisted living units and fewer for

independent living.

Why are seniors less eager to enter a CCRC? Gurley speculates that

some are determined to age in place in their community for as long as

possible, while others take their retirement in stages – and they can

do that because today they have so many options. They can move into a

retirement community that features cottages situated around a golf

course, for example, and stay there until they’re 75 or 80 and more

concerned about their health.

Paradoxically, though people now enter CCRCs later in life, to the

staff they often seem younger then previous residents. High believes

there’s been a change in our basic perception of aging. Twenty years

ago, people retired in their 60s and that seemed old, she says. Now

seniors eat well and work out, and at 80 they’re still swimming,

volunteering, traveling. "They don’t seem old, but they may not be as

young as they look," she observes.

Studies show that, on average, CCRC residents live a year and a half

to two years longer than their peers in the outside world. High

believes that’s because the CCRCs emphasize wellness and social

stimulation. "If you stay in your house by yourself, you’re more

likely to focus on what’s going wrong with you," she says. "If you

can’t drive after dark, you’re not going out at night. If your joints

hurt, you stop going to the fitness center. In a CCRC, everything is

right there on the campus." CFO Gurley suggests another possibility,

as well: the kind of affluent people who choose to move into a CCRC

may be healthier and more active to begin with.

"CCRCs themselves haven’t changed much over the years, but the

residents they serve are changing," says Gurley. "They like freedom of

choice. In our older communities, we had one large, formal dining room

and served dinner there. Now people also want the option of a casual

dining environment where they can have a quick sandwich." Stonebridge

has both.

"We’re working with highly educated people who want to stay well,"

High observes. The result at Stonebridge is a swimming pool designed

for exercise, not just for dog paddling, and a monthly fee that covers

not only utilities and local phone service but basic cable and

high-speed Internet access in every apartment. Some residents still go

to work every day, while others may well be running a consulting

business from their new apartment – which is fine with the

administration. Meanwhile, a staff coordinator schedules lectures,

concerts, day trips, and other events, and the residents are also

organizing their own activities, including a bridge club and a "swing"

group devoted to Big Band music.

The fact that today’s seniors like to have choices has led to another

change: a growing number of CCRCs now offer applicants their pick of

several different contracts. The Lifecare plan was offered as a bonus

for early Stonebridge recruits, those who signed up before the

facility was built.

The Lifecare plan will no longer be offered after the end of June;

instead new applicants will have a choice of two other contracts. The

differences between these options are significant and mostly concern

how health care will be paid for.

The security and predictability of the Lifecare plan appeal to many

seniors. It has a higher entrance fee because it is like an insurance

policy: people pay up front for health care they may use in the

future. If they move from independent living to assisted living or

skilled nursing, their monthly fee does not increase.

The two newer options are called fee-for-service contracts because

residents pay for health care as they use it, rather than up front.

Both have lower entrance fees than the Lifecare plan, but the monthly

fee rises as residents move through the continuum of care. They are

charged less than market rates, however.

The option called the 90 percent refundable plan holds out a way for

residents to preserve their capital, provided they stay healthy in

their later years. The contract stipulates that if they never have to

move to assisted living or skilled nursing, Presbyterian Homes will

refund 90 percent of their entrance fee to their estate. However, if

they do have to leave independent living, part of the monthly fee in

their new and more costly setting will be deducted from their entrance

fee.

For example, if a resident who has been paying $2,500 a month in

independent living is faced with a bill for $7,000 or $8,000 a month

in skilled nursing, then $3,500 of that amount is taken from the

entrance fee. Under this scenario, under the 90 percent plan, an

entrance fee of $300,000 would be one-half depleted after three years.

Depleting the entrance fee first is helpful for the resident, Gurley

says, because the entrance fee doesn’t earn any interest; deducting

expenses from it makes more sense than depleting other assets. The

90 percent plan appeals to people who hope to preserve as much of the

entrance fee as possible for their heirs – and those who may want to

get out of their contract. If they change their minds after signing,

they can get a full refund within the first 30 days; after that the

money is 90 percent refundable if they are still in independent

living.

The second fee-for-service contract, called the traditional plan,

reduces the entry fee still further. For example, for the least

expensive one-bedroom apartment at Stonebridge, people who have the 90

percent plan pay $173,000, while those with a traditional contract pay

just $118,000. Under the traditional plan, if residents move on

permanently from independent living, they must pay the higher monthly

fee from their other assets.

When residents under the traditional plan die, or they decide to move

away, some of the entrance fee might be returned to them or their

heirs. Nevertheless the entrance fee is "declined" over time – meaning

that the amount that they can get back as a refund shrinks steadily,

and the longer they stay, the less they can get back. For this reason

the traditional plan is often disfavored when children play a

decision-making role.

The traditional plan appeals to those with fewer assets and a sizable

income. Some prefer it because they can invest the money they save on

the entrance fee in a stock portfolio for growth and income. Some are

simply willing to take their chances on poor health in the future.

For either the 90 percent or the traditional plan, there is no

increase in the monthly charge when residents temporarily stay in

assisted living or skilled nursing to recover from a medical problem.

An apartment at Stonebridge is very different from a house in

Princeton. Asked what he misses about his previous existence, Reeves

Hicks mentions the proximity to certain friends and to the library,

but mainly it’s the expansive physical space he pines for – space that

had held 58 years of accumulated belongings and memories. Now for the

first time ever, he’s living in an apartment building, though it’s one

with spacious common areas that encourage residents to mingle.

His daughter, Lindsey, observes that living in a house can be a pretty

insular experience. One of the adjustments she and other adult

children have had to make, as their parents moved into Stonebridge, is

that now families get together in a more public way. "Suddenly you’re

in a place where experiences are more shared," she says. "You may have

Thanksgiving in the dining room with everybody else. But ultimately

that communal experience may be a good thing."

The Stonebridge administration compares the community to a small town.

For some residents, it’s more like a college dorm in freshman year:

everybody’s new, so everybody’s friendly. However, another analogy

struck Hicks as reasonably accurate. At least at this point in time,

living in Stonebridge with its restaurants and all the other amenities

is a bit like being on an extended cruise.

Stonebridge at Montgomery, 100 Hollinshead Spring Road,

Skillman 08558. Anthony Argondizza, acting executive director.

609-683-8355; fax, 609-759-3672. Home page: phsnet.org


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