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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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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.
Skillman 08558. Anthony Argondizza, acting executive director.
609-683-8355; fax, 609-759-3672. Home page: phsnet.org
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