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Residents Chuck and Doris Smith, formerly of Delaware, have been living at Birch Hill Terrace for nearly a decade. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Meeting a growing demand: Affiliation of 2 retirement communities will add benefits for residents


MANCHESTER -- Jean Anderson sold her Amherst home and settled into Birch Hill Terrace last September for what she calls her “final move.”

The 75-year-old woman is living in a one-bedroom unit in the independent living area but could shift to assisted living or nursing care, if needed, on the same campus in the city's northwest corner.

“If I get sick, I won't have to worry about finding a place to move to,” Anderson said last week.

Birch Hill Terrace — a continuing care retirement community — announced last week it was affiliating with The RiverWoods Group, a parent company of RiverWoods Continuing Care Retirement Community based in Exeter.

The move allows Birch Hill to refinance its debt and make building upgrades.

“Our parent organization is becoming their parent,” said Justine Vogel, president and CEO at RiverWoods.

“The industry is getting more complex. Health care is more complex,” she said.

“What we're seeing across the industry is smaller single-site providers are joining up with larger providers to get that kind of depth of scale,” Vogel said. “It's real important to note that the two organizations have their own personality and their own style.”

These continuing care retirement communities are growing in popularity in New Hampshire, home to the nation's third oldest population. There are 11 today compared to seven in 2010, according to the state Insurance Department, which regulates them.

According to state law, CCRCs must provide to prospective residents a disclosure statement that must include language that reads: “NOTICE: You are advised to consult with an attorney before signing any documents or agreements concerning this matter. You have the right to cancel this agreement within 10 days after signing without obligation, except for certain described services and charges.”

The resident occupancy at RiverWoods is in the “high-90s” while Birch Hill is in “the mid-80s,” Vogel said.

Birch Hill, which has 180 residents, and RiverWoods, with 620 total among its three Exeter campuses, each offers residents the opportunity to choose to start in a section with independent living with the option of moving to assisted living or nursing care if the need arises.

Both places require an entrance fee as well as monthly payments, meaning not everyone can afford to stay there.

RiverWoods features residents generally in the “top 10 to 20 percent in terms of wealth,” as far as assets and income, Vogel said. Birch Hill is “going to be able to serve someone with a little less wealth and a little less income,” she said.

Generally, people sell their homes to finance their entrance fees, which vary by size of unit and refundability percentage, Vogel said.

At Birch Hill, someone wanting a one-bedroom unit could pay a $154,397 entrance fee with half that amount refunded to the person if he moves or to his estate after his death.

The person also would pay $2,817 a month for independent living, $4,600 for assisted living and $8,052 for nursing care.

Residents also may qualify for a tax deduction.

At RiverWoods, a two-bedroom cottage requires an entrance fee of $797,000 and a monthly service fee of $6,671, no matter what the level of care. Ninety percent of the entrance fee is refunded when a person leaves or dies. The entrance fees help with cash flow and for the organization to reinvest in the physical campus.

“The monthly fees are really to run the operations” to pay staff and expenses, Vogel said.

People at RiverWoods generally are between age 75 and 85 when they move in with average annual incomes typically between $55,000 and $60,000, though they can range widely, Vogel said.

People live there an average of 12 to 15 years and generally stay until they die.

Chuck Smith and his wife, Doris, both 83, arrived at Birch Hill almost a decade ago, moving from Delaware to be closer to their children living in Nelson and in Vermont.

“This is a totally family-oriented place,” Mr. Smith said.

Friends transitioning from independent to assisted living handle it in different ways at Birch Hill.

“Depends on the person. Some do it very easily. Some —,” said Doris Smith.

“— struggle,” finished Chuck Smith, who sits on the board of trustees.

Mr. Smith said he supported the pairing of Birch Hill and RiverWoods, saying RiverWoods would help improve Birch Hill's occupancy rate.

“It's just a perfect marriage,” he said.

Birch Hill plans nearly $6 million in physical upgrades over the next several years, money from refinancing and entrance fees.

Apartments will get upgraded as they turn over, Vogel said, as well as “bringing some of their common areas up to a kind of contemporary standard.”

RiverWoods was looking “to serve a broader demographic and a broader geographic area,” Vogel said.

Birch Hill Terrace President and CEO Gary Zabierek said Birch Hill has been examining the idea of affiliating since 2010 after the housing market dropped.

“It made sense to look at how a bigger system could provide more opportunity.

“I think it helps RiverWoods Group to fulfill their mission to be able to provide the service they do in a bigger footprint,” he said.

Todd Fahey, state director for AARP, said AARP doesn't take positions on any particular CCRCs.

“AARP is committed to the creation of livable communities, places that are welcoming for all ages, that promote and enhance personal independence and increase opportunities for community engagement as the population ages,” Fahey said.

AARP generally advocates that states adopt policies regarding CCRCs providing all services promised to residents in their rental or service agreements and establishing standards for sound financial planning and management practices to facilitate and ensure the CCRC's financial viability as well as addressing issues such as reserve funding and best financial practices.

New Hampshire law, he said, “incorporates many of AARP's stated policy concerns.”


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