What are Life Care Communities?

Life care is one type of Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) that provides independent living, assisted living and nursing home care. The international accreditation agency for retirement facilities, CARF, describes life care communities as CCRCs that utilize an extensive or Type A Life Care/Extensive Contract.

Life care communities are different from other senior housing options in that they require a long-term, upfront financial commitment that, in turn, guarantees housing, services and nursing care all in one location through the end of life.

In contrast to fee-for-service contracts, life care residents pay a large initial deposit plus a monthly maintenance fee that stays nearly the same no matter how much care is needed.

Beyond the financial requirements, life care applicants typically must pass health and medical requirements before moving into independent living. In addition, many life care communities are operated by not-for-profit, faith-based organizations and often promise to provide services when residents run out of money.

Why do people choose Life Care Communities?

According to Diane Moore, Senior Living Coordinator at Spring Lake Village in Santa Rosa, California, one of a number of life care communities operated by Episcopal Senior Communities (ESC), life care is well understood on the East Coast but it is relatively rare on the West Coast. She explains that many life care facilities offer both the extensive entry fee and the monthly fee-for-services options.

“The main reason people chose the extensive, non-refundable entry fee is that it offers predictability and stability,” says Moore. “If you are healthy but don’t have long-term care insurance, you may be attracted to life care with its guarantee of unlimited skilled nursing and outpatient medical offices on campus.”

Shelly Parks is marketing director of Skyline at First Hill in Seattle, one of only three life care communities in the Pacific Northwest. As one of three senior housing properties run by the Presbyterian Retirement Communities Northwest, Skyline attracts people who are committed to preserving their financial estates, says Parks.

As part of the residence eligibility, Skyline residents pay an entry fee that ranges from about $400,000 to $1,125,000. Given the cost for skilled nursing in 2010 runs as high as $340 per day, many feel more secure with upfront costs and a steady monthly fee than worrying about the possibility of ever-escalating monthly fees.

“People interested in life care are realistic and they want a plan in place,” notes Parks. “They pay a premium to save a lot of money in the long run as well as enjoy the security of knowing they have priority care at a good cost.”

Consider the Community’s Financial Health

In a March 27, 2010 article in The Wall Street Journal titled, Searching for Security, author Kelly Greene suggests that seniors should research the financial viability of the life care communities under consideration. She recommends they look beyond the amenities and enlist professionals to help them scrutinize the facility’s ability to deliver down the road.

When evaluating life care communities’ finances, just as with any other type of investment, Greene says ask to see an organization’s financial reports. What is its positive net worth? Do operating revenues exceed expenses and does it rely on endowments or donations and investments? Also, ask if it has a benevolence fund, insurance and are residents involved in the community’s financial planning and decision making?

Choosing whether to enter a life care community is a tough decision. Explore the library of resources on this website to research your long-term care options and then browse our directory of senior housing to Find Continuing Care in your area.

Written by senior care writer Leslee Jaquette.

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