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What to look for when deciding on a senior living community

Choosing the right community
Jim and Nancy Pauli, residents at Haven I apartments at Concordia Lutheran Ministries, pose in their favorite area of their two-bedroom apartment, the living room, on Tuesday, Feb. 6. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle

At some point on life’s road, older adults may reach a fork: remain in one’s home or move to a retirement community.

It’s not a decision to be taken lightly as financial, personal and physical factors must all be taken into account.

Beth Herold, the director of the Butler County Area Agency on Aging, said people looking into moving to a senior living community have several criteria to consider: what level of care is expected or needed and what services are available.

Prospective residents also need to look at their income and the cost of living in a retirement community.

Most retirement community residents pay for their stay using a combination of monthly income (Social Security and pension benefits) and personal savings.

Following a close second to money decisions is the projected retirement community’s proximity to family members.

Julia Toth, community liaison for personal care homes with Quality Life Services, 612 N. Main St., said a location close to family members is an important consideration.

Cheryl Aughton, marketing coordinator with Concordia Haven Retirement Apartments, 112 Marwood Road, Jefferson Township, said a senior’s children and other relatives are often an important part of the decision making.

“Oftentimes children and/or other family members are involved in the decision process. They tour with them, help them transition to their new lifestyle,” she said.

Cynthia Boyd, director of admissions for St. Barnabas Communities, 5850 Meridian Road, Gibsonia, said, “We love when family is part of the decision. Our tours are for everyone, even the grandchildren.”

Toth added, “I always encourage tours of our facilities so potential clients and their families can see where they would live in person. At that time, they can meet staff and if a current resident is willing to meet and talk about their experience, they can give a first-time testimonial.”

And today’s retirement communities offer more than just housing and meals.

Boyd said that at St. Barnabas, residents are offered more than 50 activities a week ranging from free golf to live musical performances, movies, gentle yoga and Bible study. St. Barnabas also has a transportation fleet to get residents to shopping venues several times a week.

Jim and Nancy Pauli, residents at Haven I apartments at Concordia Lutheran Ministries, put together a puzzle in the dining room of their two-bedroom apartment on Tuesday, Feb. 6. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle

In addition, Boyd said, “St. Barnabas is proud to have two full-time resident recreation directors and resident relations directors promote a fulfilling retirement experience.”

Toth said Quality Life Services offers salon services and hair styling to all resident at a private-pay cost.

“At the Havens, we offer a wide range of activities and amenities, helping residents to live active and fulfilling lives,” Aughton said. “From entertainment and weekly Happy Hours, to regularly scheduled Lifelong Learning classes, bus trips to exciting venues, movie and game nights, special festivals and more.

“Residents also enjoy beautiful views from their patio or balcony, flower and vegetable gardening; walks/bike rides on our paved, outdoor trails; fishing; woodworking; sewing; volunteering and more,” she said.

One resident enjoying all the amenities that the Village at St. Barnabas in Gibsonia has to offer is Sue Rimer, 83, a retired teacher who moved to the community to be closer to her relatives.

“I’m close to my daughter in Ross Township, my sisters-in-law in New Bethlehem and Chicora, my sister in Clarion and relatives in Rimersburg,” she said.

“When I lived in my condo in Ross Township, I was active in the Memorial Park Presbyterian Church; I got to know members who lived at St. Barnabas,” said Rimer. “I chose St. Barnabas because I knew all about it.”

“There were no adjustments moving into St. Barnabas, there were no surprises,” she said.

Sue Rimer, 83, is a retired teacher who moved to the Village at St. Barnabas in Gibsonia to be closer to family. Eric Freehling/Special to the Eagle

What was surprising, she said, was the number of activities available.

“There’s a variety of rooms to do things,” said Rimer.

“There’s the grocery store, the theater, the Pub, the Village Restaurant, the exercise room, the mail room, the credit union. You can see everybody, and you don’t have to go out in the cold,” she said.

“I love the exercise room; it keeps you fit. They have bicycles, treadmills. I do chair yoga, dominoes and women’s coffee,” she added.

“There’s a lot to keep me busy,” Rimer said. “I volunteer to be an ambassador at the front desk. I mentor a lady who just moved in from Beaver County.”

Jim and Nancy Pauli, residents at Haven I apartments at Concordia Lutheran Ministries, pose in their favorite area of their two-bedroom apartment, the living room, on Tuesday, Feb. 6. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle

Jim and Nancy Pauli, formerly of Saxonburg, moved into Concordia in July 2023.

Nancy Pauli said, “Well, we had always known we would go into some kind of senior living. It was just a question of when.”

“Our two sons live in Erie and Michigan with their families. We did not think they should have to take care of us,” she said.

For the Paulis, a big selling point for Concordia is its proximity to their former home.

“It’s two miles from Saxonburg where we had lived for 40 years,” she said.

She said her husband likes the fact he no longer has to do yard work, and she likes the fact they can go to church at Concordia, there is a dining hall and frequent entertainment. She has joined a quilting group. And the Paulis enjoy walks on the grounds. Jim Pauli plays darts and cornhole.

“We like to be busy. You can be as busy as you want to be here,” she said.

Retirement communities also offer increasing levels of care for their residents.

Boyd said St. Barnabas has all levels on-site at its campuses: active independent living, independent living with home care, living assistance, and a hospice care team for navigating through difficult times.

“Finding the right community, like a Continuing Care Retirement Community, is key to remaining in the community without worry,” Boyd said.

Jim and Nancy Pauli, residents at Haven I apartments at Concordia Lutheran Ministries, pose in their two-bedroom apartment on Tuesday, Feb. 6. They turned one of their bedrooms into a hobby room. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle

Aughton said, “At Concordia, we believe in an aging-in-place model. We strive to make it possible for residents to safely remain independent in their apartments for as long as possible through visits by our Concordia Visiting Nurses and aides from Concordia Private Care. When residents are faced with the decision of transferring to another level of care, we arrange for a care plan meeting with the family and the resident’s caregivers to make things as simple as possible for the resident and his/her family.”

Quality Life Services’ Toth said any resident in its communities are always evaluated for the amount of care they need.

Quality Life Services residents have the first priority to move throughout the Quality Life Services’ levels, whether it’s the skilled nursing facility for rehabilitation and then a move to a more independent personal care home level, or in the case of declining health, a move to a skilled bed facility.

Boyd said, “We take it step by step. The St. Barnabas Communities Admission office assists incoming residents with how to move your treasures and sell your home. A mentor program helps residents to acclimate to a new surrounding and be introduced to other fellow residents.”

Toth at Quality Life Services said, “We assist with the move-in of personal belongings. We offer furniture at no cost. Staff members will come and introduce themselves to the new resident.”

Concordia’s Aughton said, “We’re with our residents every step of the way — from the application process to move-in, and that’s just the beginning. From there, our team is available on a daily basis to help residents with whatever they might need to live a happy, healthy worry-free life.”

The word must be getting out. All three retirement communities have noted an increase in interest.

Boyd said, “We have seen an increase in applications this year. Many have been by referrals, too, other residents seeking to have their friends and family enjoy just the same. We love when that happens, and 2023 showed a record-high number of residents referring residents.”

Jim and Nancy Pauli, residents at Haven I apartments at Concordia Lutheran Ministries, pose in their two-bedroom apartment on Tuesday, Feb. 6. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle

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