Assisted living availability is a crisis according to Marta Gray, President of Culpepper Garden, the only subsidized facility for low-income seniors in Arlington.
She says there are 20 seniors in need on the waiting list for the 73 spaces in assisted living at Culpepper Garden which is about a three-year wait. Gray explains that some people start out by signing up for independent living so they have a spot when they need to move to assisted living.
Gray says there are 264 seniors on the waiting list for the 273 independent living spots at Culpepper, with a 3.5 year wait for a one bedroom with walk-in shower, a 2 years wait for one bedroom with bathtub/shower and 2 years for efficiency with shower.
She estimates that probably half of the applicants for independent living are unhoused and couch surfing or staying in an extended stay place. The average annual income for an independent living resident at Culpepper is $10,000.
“People tell me all the time the need to get their spouse, parent or loved one into Culpepper, and I tell them they should have started two years ago.” Gray says that often people are in a more expensive living residence and they run out of money and need to move to a less expensive place they can afford. Or they may live 10 years longer than they had planned or a spouse may use up all of the savings.
“We do have a danger at all levels of people outliving their means,” she said. “More and more people will need affordable housing.”
Culpepper Garden was the first low income senior housing residence in the country to receive HUD rental subsidies. Gray says everyone in the assisted living part of Culpepper must qualify for rental subsidies. The average income for an assisted living applicant is $27,158 a year. Gray says, “they can’t go out and get a part time job. Whatever they have, they have.”
While all of the residents in assisted living receive rental subsidies, only 36 of the 73 residents receive assistance to pay for their care as well. These care subsidies are provided by Culpepper Garden raised from community donations, assistance from Arlington County or donors. “We don’t get any state or Federal funding.”
Gray says that a number of the residents have early dementia “and we have to find a place for them to go because we have no memory care at Culpepper. We have no subsidy to support it.” She said a recent Washington Post article pointed out that the recent growth in the industry has been driven in large part by demand for secure housing for people with dementia.
Gray points out the problems in assisted living go beyond availability, including oversight and neglect of residents in facilities across the nation. These issues were highlighted on Jan. 25 when the U.S. Senate Committee on Aging held a hearing focused on the abuses and neglect in assisted living facilities nationwide, spurred by the Washington Post Article titled “Dozens of Assisted Living Residents Died After Wandering Away Unnoticed.”
Their research found that patients with memory problems walk away from assisted living facilities just about every day in America — some to be hit by cars, die in freezing conditions outside or by drowning nearby. Unlike nursing homes, which are regulated by the Federal government, assisted living facilities are regulated by the states, few of which have adopted strong staffing and training requirements.
“I welcome the Senate Special Committee on Aging’s hearing on assisted living options for older Americans. As the number of older Americans continues to grow, we need a national strategy to support assisted-living facilities, train caregivers, and ensure equitable access to high-quality care for at-risk older adults.
“Mental health and memory care are often the first components to be compromised when assisted-living facilities are underfunded and understaffed. We need standards to determine when an older adult should be transferred to a memory care facility with the appropriate resources and staff to care for them.
“As the first assisted living facility in the country to receive rental subsidies from HUD, we’ve seen firsthand the impact public support can have on older adults’ quality of life. These subsidies not only allow us to provide a safe environment for older adults living on fixed incomes but also serve as a critical lifeline for older adults who would otherwise end up unhoused and/or without care.”
Gray says this is truly approaching crisis proportions as the need for affordable housing only continues to grow.