The number of people in the United States age 65 and older is expected to double by 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In the same time period, the number of people suffering from cognitive disease is expected to grow from 5 million to 16 million, a new report from the Alzheimer’s Association shows. In Arkansas, there are more than 54,000 people aged 65 and above who have Alzheimer’s, and that number is expected to increase by 24%, to 67,000 people, within the next decade.
To accommodate those troubling trends, the demand for memory care facilities is rapidly growing in the senior housing industry — especially in Northwest Arkansas, where the overall population has surged past the 500,000 mark.
Developers are moving to address the concerns, specifically in Rogers, where four assisted living facilities totaling $65 million in construction are in various stages of development. Two of them are freestanding memory care facilities, the first developments in Benton County devoted solely to memory care. The other two properties will offer a full continuum of services for residents — independent living, assisted living and memory care.
Together, the four properties bring 426 new units to the assisted living inventory in Benton County, which will nearly double the amount of inventory. Of the new units, 162 are for memory care.
‘More Supply Needed’
The Arkansas Department of Human Services’ Office of Long Term Care (OLTC) reports there are 445 licensed beds among nine assisted living facilities in Benton County. The OLTC does not, however, certify or license by the “memory care facility” category. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities may, however, opt to secure designation from the OLTC as Alzheimer’s Special Care Units (ASCU), offering services specifically for individuals with Alzheimer’s or other associated dementia.
The number of ASCU beds in Arkansas is 542 spread out among 17 developments. In Benton County, there are just 28 ASCU beds — Mt. Carmel Community (18) and The Meadows (10).
“The Baby Boomers are retiring and there has, unfortunately, been an increase in Alzheimer’s disease,” said Mason Green, vice president of business development for Abby Development and Construction of Dallas, which is developing Arabella of Rogers on Northgate Road. “Because of that, there’s more supply needed.”
The projects already under construction in Rogers are Primrose Retirement Community of Rogers, Magnolia Place Alzheimer’s Special Care Center and Grand Brook Memory Care of Rogers at Pinnacle Hills. The developers are from South Dakota, Washington and Texas, respectively. All of the companies are making their initial push into the Arkansas market.
Lagging back in the pipeline is the $33 million Arabella of Rogers project, a 295,000-square-foot development with 216 units, and 36 dedicated to memory care. Green said the project is “about 70%” through the approval process with city planners. He hopes it will be completed by the end of the year, with groundbreaking scheduled in the second quarter of 2017. The site will occupy 18 acres of land owned by Whitpin Properties. The property is under contract and scheduled to close in December.
Green said the luxury community will include amenities such as indoor/outdoor swimming pools, a stocked fishing lake with walking trails and a movie theater.
“It’s a resort-style campus, and there is nothing like it in that part of Arkansas,” he said.
Abby is also developing a community in Conway that will include 30 independent living cottages, 44 assisted living units and 36 memory care units. Construction should begin in the first quarter of 2017.
Filling a Gap
Brandi Schneider, coordinator of aging services for the Schmieding Center for Senior Health and Education in Springdale, explained most senior living developments offer a mixture of units to provide a variety of care for residents, from retirement to end of life. Independent units are for senior residents who still maintain an active lifestyle but want to downsize or simplify. Assisted living is for residents who need more attentive personal care. Memory care units are for people with cognitive impairments such as dementia or Alzheimer’s.
“We all want to age with dignity and to keep as much control of our own lives as we can for as long as we can,” she said. “If that means we can build in that extra step with assisted living, that’s a great option for people. To not go to the nursing facility yet.”
Demand for assisted living facilities, Schneider agreed, is being boosted by the rising population. She also noted they often fill the growing gap between home healthcare and nursing homes and hospitals.
“Family members might want to take care of their loved ones at home,” she said. “But with something like Alzheimer’s or dementia, it oftentimes becomes impossible to do if they are trying to work or take care of their own families.”
Jobs in High Demand
The investments of senior housing developers will mean hundreds of new job opportunities in Northwest Arkansas. Whether the industry will have access to enough experienced employees to meet the increasing demand is a different story. The challenge, Schneider said, is in obtaining the executive and departmental level talent to run operations.
The new facilities in Rogers expect to employ close to 250 people.
“Those types of jobs are in high demand in Northwest Arkansas and in very short supply,” she said. “Those can be difficult jobs, and the pay is not great. So it’s hard to attract someone to that type of work. It’s very much a problem.”
Carl Sanders, vice president of development and asset management at JEA Senior Living, said attracting and retaining exceptional staff is vital to any community. To address the issue, Sanders said JEA has a history of working with local and regional industry associations and educators, and also utilizing corporate partnerships the firm has national recruitment services to target healthcare workers.
“It takes a lot of effort and focus to attract the best applicants,” he said. “But once we accomplish that, we must diligently work to retain the team members who chose to join JEA.”