Setting a New Standard for Senior Living

Variety of housing options surfacing for active, independent Baby Boomer generation

By Dillon Tabish
Members of the Board of Directors for Immanuel Lutheran Communities, including CEO Jason Cronk, right, toss dirt into the air during a groundbreaking ceremony on May 5, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

As research is increasingly showing, the Baby Boomer generation is setting a new standard for senior living.

“You have people who are incredibly active much later in life now,” Kalispell Planning Director Tom Jentz said. “The Baby Boomers are retiring but they are so incredibly active by and large and they’re not ready to slow down.”

As a result, the housing options are evolving with this new trend, adding a new variety alongside the traditional retirement home setting. As residents age, they are apt to downsize from the two-story homes with large property, Jentz said. Areas with amenities such as parks, sidewalks and trail systems are attractive for senior developments, he said, which is leading cities such as Kalispell to increasingly adapt to this new trend.

“It’s a nationwide trend and just like every community, the time is now and it’s coming here,” Jentz said.

In Kalispell, several different types of home options have emerged. In downtown, developers were looking for a centrally located site close to a park and trail system while also providing close opportunity for grocery shopping. They found an ideal spot on Central Avenue, which is where they built Depot Place, a three-story apartment complex for low-income seniors.

The Burlage Family Properties developed a new Bee Hive Assisted Living Center at 242 Stillwater Road. The 19-bed facility opened earlier this spring with a 24-hour staff and 19-person occupation limit.

“There are now much different expectations for retirement,” Jentz said.

Jentz said cities are looking at ways to offer “density with amenities” in the core areas where seniors and others might prefer to live.

Certainly the largest example of a senior housing boom is the latest expansion at Immanuel Lutheran Communities, which just broke ground on a $45-million, multi-phase, five-year expansion at Buffalo Hill Terrace.

Adjacent to the campus of Kalispell Regional Healthcare, Immanuel Lutheran is working on the first phase of construction that adds a new therapy gym and 32 guest suites for a total of 48 guest suites at The Retreat at Buffalo Hill, an award-winning center designed for short-term rehabilitation and post-acute care.

The expansion at Buffalo Hill Terrace begins in July with construction of The Lodge, an assisted-living memory-support neighborhood. The new Lodge will include 24 private residences and continues Immanuel Lutheran’s tradition of serving those with Alzheimer’s and other related dementias – a need that is expected to nearly triple in the next 35 years. In 1976, Immanuel Lutheran Communities was one of the first organizations in the country to open a dedicated living environment for people with the Alzheimer’s disease.

The new Villas at Buffalo Hill – 36 independent-living apartments designed with new amenities for the Baby Boomer Generation– are expected to be completed in late 2018. Already, prospective residents have placed deposits on more than half of the future residences.

In the final phase of the expansion, the Immanuel Skilled Care Center will be renovated to add memory support and create small “neighborhoods” with private rooms. Each neighborhood will offer a social space and dining facilities. The center also will add six specialized hospice suites.

“The Immanuel Skilled Care Center has been a comfortable home for many of our seniors from the Flathead Valley for 59 years,” said Jason Cronk, CEO of Immanuel Lutheran Communities.  “It is time to renew the center into a modern design that allows residents to continue to live comfortably with the support and loving care Immanuel has provided for generations.”