If you’re considering an independent living situation in Queens for yourself or a loved senior citizen, local experts say there are plenty of options that can be narrowed down by first sorting out the facts and then considering the feeling you get about a residence.
“There’s a perfect community for every resident,” in Queens, according to Erika Ribaudo, a senior living advisor with A Place for Mom, a free advisory service for seniors and their families that is funded by senior communities and residences. Ribaudo is based in Forest Hills and is one of the counselors whom Queens families might speak with if they call the service. “The personality of each place is going to be very different,” she said.
The first step requires families to narrow down the field of the more than a dozen independent living locations in Queens to three or four locations according to the level of service available, their locations and their cost, Ribaudo said. The second step is to visit each facility and find out if it feels right.
In Queens, there are five facilities that are or contain traditional “independent living” residences, including Flushing House and Sutton Gardens, both in Flushing, Atria Kew Gardens and Homestead, both in Kew Gardens, and Atria Forest Hills. Other options include Medicaid Assisted Living Programs that accept private payments until a resident runs out of resources and is eligible for Medicaid, and senior housing locations that help coordinate supportive housing services, such as those available through Selfhelp.org.
Many families wind up looking for independent living after balancing the amount and kinds of services needed against the cost. “About 90 percent of older people do not wish to live anywhere but their own houses,” said Miriam Burns, a board member of the Queens Interagency Council on Aging, an independent nonprofit membership organization that represents Queens senior programs. Some of those need help to remain in their own homes, but help is limited by expenses, Burns noted. Some seniors don’t have families to help with housekeeping, laundry, or cooking, and in our mobile society, she said, those who do have family members may not have anyone living close enough to provide the amount of help that is needed. Some independent living residences are also known as retirement homes or communities.
As an example, Flushing House, located on Bowne Street, charges $2,500 per month for a studio and $3,575 for a one-bedroom, including utilities, meals and numerous services. Any pair of consenting adults can share a one-bedroom for an additional charge of $550 per month. Depending on the level of services needed, the rate might be close to or even less than the cost of a senior remaining in his or her original home.
As opposed to nursing homes and assisted living, independent living centers help seniors age 62 and older with housekeeping, laundry, a meal plan, activities, and some kind of assistance with transportation while preserving the greatest degree of independence. Some provide a social worker or coordinator to help seniors connect with outside resources and institutions such as eldercare attorneys, Access-A-Ride, Social Security and Medicare.
At Flushing House, other services include a hair salon, group outings with transportation, on-site doctors, a gift and sundries shop and religious services. These services might be billed separately or included in the facility’s monthly fee.
On a recent afternoon, Activities Directors Katie Rivers and Josh Lutz visited with Laurie, a prospective resident who declined to give her last name to protect her privacy and was staying at the facility temporarily to help her make a final decision about moving in. Lutz was eager to show off the CD recently produced by the Flushing House band. In the penthouse atrium, residents Miriam Kraft and Rose Allen participated in a creative writing class.
Independent living residents must be able to ambulate 100 feet upon first entering Flushing House, according to Erica Prince, its co-director of marketing. However, once they are living at the facility, they can “age in place” if they need to obtain additional assisted living services by either hiring one of Flushing House’s two on-site services or using another agency of their own choice.
When considering location, families and seniors should look at what neighborhood services are available, especially for more mobile seniors, said Pat Connolly, sales director at Atria Forest Hills. They might check out the availability of pharmacies, banking, public transportation and shopping. At Atria Forest Hills, a parking garage is available. Atria Forest Hills also can arrange, at an additional cost, medication management services and health aide services for those who develop mobility issues, or it can arrange transfer to a higher-level facility, such as Atria Kew Gardens’ memory care unit, she said.
The level of services required changes as each resident gets older. Some Flushing House residents function mostly outside of the facility and use it as a home base for commuting to Manhattan daily or working full-time, Prince said. Other residents are “aging in place” and use one of the home care agencies to get additional help. If a resident needs to use a skilled nursing facility, either temporarily or permanently, Flushing House helps families make those arrangements.
Sometimes, facilities will have a waiting list, while others will have apartments available for immediate occupancy, so prior planning can make a big difference in the number of choices available. Flushing House, for example, had several apartments available as of mid-March, as did Atria Forest Hills.
Dropping by the facility, taking an official tour and possibly participating in one or more events will introduce a senior to residents and staff and give you a feeling for whether you can call this new place home.
Laurie, the prospective resident, said she is fluent in both English and Spanish and knows at least a few words in Chinese, Portuguese, Korean and Japanese. Laurie said she was looking for a multicultural environment that echoed the one in which she had grown up. She had sampled the food in the dining room, spoken with the chef about how to meet her personal dietary requirements and participated in some of the activities.
“You couldn’t ask for more as far as having diverse cultures, and that’s what they have here,” Laurie said, adding, “The staff is fantastic.”
But many seniors remain independent long after they stop working. Typically, to qualify for independent living, a resident must be able to move about independently. Facilities need to see that a resident can “transfer,” or get out of bed, get to a walker, and ambulate that 100 feet. Someone who is in a wheelchair must be able to manage the chair independently, including getting into it from a bed, and out of it again back into a bed.
Queens also has some lower-cost senior housing locations run through Selfhelp Community Services, Inc., an independent nonprofit senior housing option that provides some supportive living services. Selfhelp’s senior housing residences all have social workers on-site who check up on residents and can help seniors communicate with families and coordinate community services such as Section 8 housing and Meals on Wheels.