Need for assisted-living facilities grows in Philadelphia region

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Need for assisted-living facilities grows in Philadelphia region

By Andrew Johnson

Thursday, March 29, 2007

When Frances Dorrian was 16, her elderly Aunt Liz came to live with Dorrian’s family in New York City. That’s what senior citizens used to do, she said.

“I never thought I’d end up in a retirement home,” Dorrian said.

But, now, she says she couldn’t be happier living at Sunrise of Upper St. Clair, where Mitzi, the house dog, keeps her company.

Dorrian, 78, lives in an assisted-living, Victorian-style mansion just off Route 19, in the shadow of the South Hills Village mall.

Staff at assisted-living facilities provide meals and medication, but services stop short of the complete medical attention a nursing home offers. It’s a growing senior housing option, and those who know the industry say the Pittsburgh suburbs are ripe for growth.

Allegheny County saw an 18 percent increase in 75- to 84-year-olds, and a 36.5 percent increase in those 85 or older, between 1990 and 2000, said Marge Lubawy, spokeswoman for the county Area Agency on Aging.

“That trend is expected to continue,” she said.

Bruce G. Beatty, land use administrator for McCandless, said the town had no assisted-living homes when he started his job 12 years ago. Today, he counts three, with plans for a local Sunrise facility on the drawing board.

Vincentian Home in McCandless plans to convert 20 of its nursing home units on Perrymont Road to assisted living this year, said Anne Kull, the home’s administrator.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has opened 11 assisted-living or “independent living” homes in the last 13 years in the Pittsburgh suburbs, including Seneca Manor in Penn Hills, Beatty Pointe Village in Monroeville, The Village at Hampton Fields in Hampton and Cumberland Crossing in McCandless. Independent living offers chef-prepared meals, maid and laundry service without the 24-hour availability of nurses.

Allegheny County has 183 assisted living homes, the most in the state, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare. But the state would like to see even more built.

“There is a need for more high-quality homes,” said department spokeswoman Stacey Ward.

Sunrise has 24 assisted-living homes in Pennsylvania and 412 nationwide, but the Upper St. Clair and McCandless homes are the company’s first in the Pittsburgh market, said David R. Ennis, Sunrise’s regional development officer.

So far, its Upper St. Clair facility has been a success.

With 73 suites, the 66,000-square-foot, 3 1/2-story facility is just three suites shy of full occupancy after opening a little more than a year and a half ago, said Gemma J. Cremers, spokeswoman for the home.

Sunrise will have a twin in the North Hills when Sunrise Senior Living, of McLean, Va., builds a $12-million, four-story facility next year along Babcock Boulevard in McCandless, complete with a “sensory garden” and gazebo. McCandless Council approved the site plan for that project Feb. 26.

Ennis said his company looks at two things when expanding: the local senior citizen population and property values. Residents usually pay for assisted living on their own. Ennis said it will cost at least $119 a day for the cheapest room at the new McCandless home.

Growth in the senior population is not just in Pittsburgh.

The country’s 75 biggest metro areas had almost 6,000 assisted-living units under construction last year, according to the American Seniors Housing Association

Jack and Dorothy Leonard, residents at Sunrise of Upper St. Clair, said they quickly ruled out moving into a nursing home.

“We didn’t think we were ready for that,” said Jack Leonard, 78.

He said that he and Dorothy, 76, are diabetic and need help taking their medication — Jack takes seven pills a day. Sunrise employees help them with that.

Both seem happy at their new home.

At Sunrise, the beauty salon looks like one upscale ladies might visit in town. Golden nameplates adorn the outside of residents’ rooms.

There is a spiral staircase, a 24-hour bistro and enough entertainment programs — like Irish step dancing and poker — to rival a cruise ship.

“I think that played a role in their decision,” said Bill Leonard, 48, of Bethel Park, Jack and Dorothy’s son.

Andrew Johnson can be reached at or 412-380-5632.

Source: The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

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