As we get older, we search for ways to retain our independence, quality of life and connections to community. This grows increasingly difficult as we begin to experience declines in health and mobility.
Last year, ICHS and Kin On Community Health Care formed a partnership to address this concern.
Discussions between the two groups have yielded a bold blueprint to build a 20,000-square-foot care facility in Seattle to serve frail seniors who are “nursing home eligible,” but want to stay in their homes and “age in place.” Each organization has pledged $3 million to make this endeavor a reality.
“We want to keep seniors who need chronic care active in the community and living in their homes as long as possible because that’s the key to maintaining their health,” explained Teresita Batayola, ICHS CEO.
Sam Wan, Kin On CEO, said the partnership was a natural fit because of the two organizations’ “successful track record for serving our elderly population” and the rapidly growing number of Asians in King County over the age of 60. “Their needs for services are compounded by language, cultural and access barriers,” he said.
Until recently, there were few choices for those who wanted to “age in place.” Institutionalization often became the inevitable next step when physical fragility and chronic care needs became too great for families to cope with. The Kin On Chinese Nursing Home has offered culturally sensitive care since 1987. The Seattle Keiro Nursing Home, initially targeted toward first generation Japanese Americans, has been in operation since 1976.
These nursing homes—now prominent anchors in the local health care sector—continue to provide quality care for Asian Pacific Islander seniors. But between the two organizations, there are only 250 beds: 100 at Kin On and 150 at Seattle Keiro.
In recent years, attitudes have shifted, especially among aging baby boomers. Entering a nursing home is now viewed by many as a last resort. With the emergence of “silver industries”—including senior concierge services and home health care agencies—today’s seniors have many more options.
Emerging into this changed paradigm for healthy aging is a little-known federal program called PACE, the acronym for Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, first pioneered in San Francisco Chinatown over four decades ago. Today, there are 228 PACE centers in 31 states.
The program, supported by Medicare and Medicaid, provides a range of services, including primary medical, dental, behavioral health, and specialty care, personal care, recreation, nutrition counseling, meals and transportation—all with the goal of helping frail seniors safely in their homes or communities as long as possible.
According to a 2015 feasibility study conducted by a national consulting firm, there are 1,338 potential APIs eligible to enroll in PACE in Seattle and King County. The feasibility study was supported by grants from the City of Seattle and the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation.
“Clearly, the market is there for a PACE facility serving our community,” Batayola said.
The new facility that Batayola and Wan are planning to develop would be the second PACE program in Washington State. The first is Providence ElderPlace, founded in Seattle in 1995. The new PACE facility is tentatively planned to be built on the vacant north parking lot of the old Pacific Tower on Beacon Hill. The new PACE program would be tailored to the cultural needs of the Asian and Pacific Islander community.
An earlier search for an affordable long-term site to establish the PACE program in the Chinatown-International District turned out to be fruitless, given the hot real estate market.
“We hope to be operational some time in 2017,” said Ian Munar, PACE program coordinator. “The initial plan is to start off with 10 participants the first month and then ramp up with seven participants monthly. The program goal is to have 220 participants by the end of the third year of operation.”
Munar pointed out that ICHS and Kin On have created a new non-profit organization—Aging in PACE Washington—to administer the program. The cost of building the new facility is approximately $12 million. Aging in PACE will conduce a capital campaign to raise both public and private dollars for construction.
One enthusiastic booster of the new PACE facility is Sue Mar, a lifelong Seattleite. She and her family found themselves caring for an elderly unmarried aunt who had no children. The aunt, living alone in a condo, began showing signs of dementia at age 76 and her symptoms got progressively worse. She was later diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Mar’s aunt lived in her condo until age 83 with support from a team of caregivers, medical providers, and her family. She passed away at the age of 90 in 2014.
“As people are getting older and living longer, it’s the little things that start adding up,” Mar said. “Their short term memory starts to go. They can’t remember things and become confused. They forget to eat and take their medications. Without medical professionals in the home, it is hard to properly diagnose the early signs of Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s or dementia. This puts the older person in a dangerous living situation and places enormous stress on family members trying to provide daily support so that person can ‘age in place.’”
Mar said she retired early from her job with Seattle City Light so she could help both her aunt and her mother, who had early stage dementia.
“With my aunt, it took way too long to get a proper diagnosis. Things came to a head when she was found wandering in front of her condo in her PJs and walking barefoot. She didn’t know where she was. That’s when we went back to the doctor and said, ‘You have to do something.’ We were finally able to get a social worker into the home to see what was going on.”
Batayola said PACE program can provide much needed support to folks like Sue Mar by keeping aging seniors connected.
“The wonderful thing about the PACE program is that even if the client’s children and grandchildren are occupied during the day, he or she has the means to go to a place where there are interdisciplinary services to maintain their social, mental and physical well-being,” Batayola said. “Each of these senior participants gets a unique plan, including some home services if needed.”