Steamboat senior community offers promise, poses challenges |

Steamboat senior community offers promise, poses challenges

The 121,000-square-foot continuous care facility would include as many as 60 skilled nursing studio apartments as well as independent living apartments and assisted living apartments. The facility also will include memory care apartments for seniors. The center is on a 6-acre site just east of Casey’s Pond and close to the intersection of U.S. Highway 40 and Walton Creek Road.

The 121,000-square-foot continuous care facility would include as many as 60 skilled nursing studio apartments as well as independent living apartments and assisted living apartments. The facility also will include memory care apartments for seniors. The center is on a 6-acre site just east of Casey's Pond and close to the intersection of U.S. Highway 40 and Walton Creek Road.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected from its original version. The Doak Walker Care Center has 59 beds.

The proposed Casey's Pond senior living community is the biggest real estate development on Steamboat's horizon, but if it opens on schedule before the December holidays in 2013, the new residents won't be closing on the purchase of real estate. Nor will they pay a large, up-front sum to hold their place at Casey's Pond.

The business model for Casey's Pond calls for Pearl Senior Living, the development and management entity for the continual care community, to rent its mix of independent living, assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing residences.

"This is not an entry fee product. This is a rental," Pearl Senior Living principal Charles Gee told the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission last week. "We feel it's a month-to-month issue. People need to try it. If they don't like it, they don't need to invest their life savings in our project."

Karl Gills, CEO of Yampa Valley Medical Center, is chairman of the board of Colorado Senior Living, the not-for-profit that will own Casey's Pond. Gills said the old model for people paying large fees to gain

access to assisted living communities is becoming increasingly out of date in the current economic conditions.

"Buying in is a trend that's in decline," Gills said. "The housing market has slowed down."

And the resulting loss of equity in peoples' homes "has become a barrier to senior residents moving into those types of products."

Add in the complexity of state regulations governing each kind of living area at Casey's Pond, from skilled nursing care to memory care, Gee said, and it's a very complex project.

The developers say they won't be able to give definitive answers to how much it will cost to live in the homes within the various product types at Casey's Pond until they can generate hard costs for construction and equipping the building.

However, he said the business plan being presented to investors and lending institutions that might fund the project is using the costs to stay in the existing skilled nursing center at the Doak Walker Care Center at YVMC as a basis for the corresponding facility in Casey's Pond. The Doak will move to Casey's when it opens.

YVMC spokeswoman Christine McKelvie said the 59 beds at the Doak are currently 92.6 percent full after averaging a 95.7 percent occupancy rate for the six years from 2005 through 2010.

Rates charged to residents of the Doak vary, but the most common charge there is $257 per day for people in semi-private rooms receiving Level 1 basic nursing care.

Among the current residents, 61.5 percent are on Medicaid.

In general, Gee said, the new skilled nursing center will have a better financial foundation as part of a continual care facility of 144 diverse housing units in an era that is likely to see shrinking Medicaid dollars available to seniors.

Gee called the skilled nursing services at the Doak Walker Care Center in YVMC the best he has seen in Colorado. And when that 59-bed facility moves to Casey's Pond, he predicted it would be even more state of the art, with a higher number of private rooms.

Those rooms and attached kitchens will be grouped in smaller pods with their own smaller dining rooms, for example.

Assisted living

Casey's Pond is planned to include 39 independent living beds and 30 assisted living beds contained in private apartments. That will more than double the 18 assisted living units in The Haven Assisted Living Center owned and operated in Hayden by the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

The demand for opportunities to move into an assisted living unit was one of the significant findings of a 2009 survey of the 435 members of Steamboat's Over The Hill Gang (20 percent of them responded).

"The purpose of the survey was to ask what facilities already exist, what might exist in the future and what's available elsewhere and what that might tell us about Steamboat," Over The Hill Gang President Bill Dring said. "We found that assisted living doesn't exist in Steamboat."

Dring said he approves of the Casey's Pond approach that would offer a range of senior living options in one location.

"It means that one couple with different needs could stay in one community," Dring said. "A lot of people just need a little assistance. People in assisted living and independent living enjoy having neighbors just down the hall and getting together for cocktail parties."

Dring said his members would like to see the broader community explore the village concept being put into use in other parts of the country, where seniors services can be efficiently delivered to people who are determined to remain in their own homes.

Fate of The Haven

Dr. John Merrill, president of the board of the Visiting Nurse Association and a resident of rural Hayden, said his organization does not view the arrival of Casey's Pond as a competitive threat to The Haven, which currently is the only assisted living facility in a four-county region.

The Haven is on solid financial and structural footing, its rooms are full and it's running a modest waiting list. Because it's likely to be less expensive than assisted living at Casey's Pond, it will occupy its own assisted living niche, he predicted.

"We feel as Casey's Pond is being planned, it's a perfect fit with the plans we have in the senior community," Merrill said. "From a selfish standpoint, we think that when Casey's Pond is going vertical (with construction) and launches its educational process, we will benefit from that."

In particular, Merrill said, VNA's hospice services are under-utilized. He predicts the public outreach from Casey's Pond will make more people aware that in addition to caring for hospice patients at Rollingstone Respite House, VNA provides in-home hospice care.

Board member Susan Larson predicted that VNA would extend living well programs to Casey's Pond as well as immunization services to residents of the independent living homes.

Like Gills, Larson wears two hats in this process. In addition to serving on the board of the VNA, she also serves on the board of Colorado Senior Living.

Larson hopes the recreation center at Casey's Pond might host Tai Chi, yoga and fitness classes that VNA offers to seniors.

"Casey's is all about amenities. This will be home for all the residents," Larson said. "It's not an institution, it's their home. The more you can do to provide amenities and services, the more it will feel like home."

Merrill said the future success of Casey's Pond could increase the senior citizen population of Routt County, creating more overall demand for the VNA's services.

"Steamboat baby boomers will bring more of their parents to the valley and the more seniors living in the county, the bigger all of our programs will become," Merrill agreed.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email

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