WOONSOCKET – The question, first posed years ago, was how to make assisted living affordable, says Robert Kulik, executive director of the Woonsocket Housing Authority.
The answer arrives Monday, when the WHA opens the doors of St. Germain Assisted Living. It’s 50 units of assisted living space within St. Germain Manor, a traditional high rise for able-bodied seniors located at 429 East School St.
Approved by the federal department of Housing and Urban Development, the project is one of the first of its kind anywhere, and will enable low-income seniors to reside in an assisted living setting for a fraction of the cost charged by most privately-run facilities.
“About three years ago we were brainstorming some things we thought we could do to get low-income assisted living for people who couldn’t afford the $5,000 or $6,000 it costs for regular assisted living,” said Kulik. “We informed HUD what we were going to do, but the Boston office was pretty skeptical at first, they said it’s never been done before.”
Kulik said HUD approved the concept after meeting with personnel from the United Methodist Elder Care of East Providence. The WHA hired the non-profit organization, doing business as Elder Care Consultants, to provide nursing and support services to tenants of St. Germain Assisted Living. The organization also operates Winslow Gardens and Linn Health Care Center.
“This is going to be a model for other housing authorities,” says Kulik, who knows of no other HUD-governed high rise that’s been partially converted to assisted living.
Unlike seniors who reside in WHA high rises, tenants of St Germain Assisted Living will not be in the Section 8 rental subsidy program. Nevertheless, Kulik said, their income must meet similar guidelines in order to qualify for assisted living quarters. For an individual, the cap is $40,250 a year; for a double-occupancy unit, $46,000.
“We do have some rooms that two people can live in, but most are single-occupancy,” says Kulik.
Tenants will pay 30 percent of their gross income to the WHA as rent, plus $1,295 a month to Elder Care Consultants for meals and assisted living services provided by the organization, according to Lynn Ianelli, director of Elder Care Consultants.
The assisted living fee covers three meals per day, delivered to the tenant’s room, plus one of four services from which they can choose – laundry, prescription management, housekeeping or nursing.
Assisted living is a residential option for seniors who are generally healthy enough to live independently, though they may need help with some of the ordinary activities of daily life, such as cooking, getting to the bathroom, personal hygiene and transportation. Elder Care Consultants will be available 24 hours a day to help.
Ianelli said Elder Care Consultants would accept Medicare and limited Medicaid, which may cover individuals of any age depending on their income and medical condition. She said St. Germain Assisted Living would admit Medicaid recipients only if they are disabled “almost to the point of needing a nursing home, but not quite...”
To accommodate the program, the WHA converted the entire second, third and fourth floors of St. Germain Manor to assisted living space, or about a third of building’s overall residential space, according to Kulik. The WHA began relocating tenants to other facilities months ago as the makeover got under way.
Kulik said that the former high rise units were not substantially remodeled for the program. He said the most significant alteration was the removal of cooktops, because assisted-living tenants are not allowed to have stoves. He said they were replaced with microwaves.
The most substantial capital investment is a new kitchen where meals will be prepared for assisted living residents.
With little advertising, 22 of the assisted living units are already spoken for, according to Kulik. The WHA will begin moving them in on Monday morning.
Betty Luis, the administrator of St. Germain Assisted Living, thinks there will be a brisk demand for quarters in the facility as word starts to spread.
“As with all Elder Care communities, services at St. Germain will be provided with the goal of giving residents the opportunity to maintain independence with dignity and respect in a caring community, in a place that truly feels like home,” the organization says.
The WHA will hold a grand opening at the facility on June 4.