John Harned next o renderingBy Dean Anderson
OKC Biz

When it comes to retirement, there’s an idea that a comfortable easy chair parked in front of the television is the way to go. But for the baby boomers, a generation that set the bar in everything from music to race relations, retirement means something more – a lot more.

With 10,000 boomers set to retire every day for nearly the next two decades, companies quickly are figuring out there’s a big market in providing what they’re looking for.

Today’s retirement residences – whether independent, assisted living or skilled-nursing facilities – are providing savvy seniors with tons of amenities.

Restaurants, convenience stores, movie theaters, classrooms, aquatic centers and fitness rooms, not to mention salons and day spas, are now the order of the day.

And they’re all being built within walking distance of one another on properties such as the one under construction at Epworth Villa, 14901 N. Pennsylvania, which has sat on 40 acres for the past 22 years.

Epworth’s living options run the gamut from independent-living cottages and apartments and traditional assisted-living all the way to hospice and private duty.

The 400 residents soon will bloom to more than 500 when the facility completes its multimillion-dollar expansion.

The primary renovation is to add 118 assisted-living apartments. Underground parking and tornado shelters are being constructed now.

John Harned, Epworth president and CEO, says two-thirds of Epworth’s nursing beds currently are semi-private. After the renovation, every one of those beds will be private.

And the crown jewel of the renovation will be the town-square concept, which will include the theater, restaurants and other amenities.

“The previous generation – the silent generation – they were very accepting of whatever was provided,” Harned says. “We’re looking now at the boomers coming on, and their expectations are of a lot more choice and a lot more freedom.

“You can tell the direction we’re going is to provide amenities and choice that boomers are always accessing in the greater community,” he says. “We’re providing them in a microcosm so as they begin to age, they still have those choices. They’re no longer limited.”

Joyce Clark, owner of Achievis Senior Living Associates, travels the country touring residences such as these.

“I love it when I see those kinds of places,” Clark says. “In Oklahoma, you don’t see that as much. They definitely have a wow factor.”

Clark – who has helped develop six senior communities in Oklahoma as well as Arkansas, Florida and Kansas – experienced a little March madness of her own, visiting 22 communities during one particularly busy week.

“I didn’t encounter anywhere that was doing badly,” says Clark, who notes most of these facilities typically are occupied in the low to mid 90% range. “Definitely the demand over the course of the last year from investors has escalated. They’re looking for a place to invest their money that pays them a higher [return on investment] than they’re getting in other venues, and the demographics are so pronounced in their favor.”

Touchmark at Coffee Creek, an upscale Edmond residence, offers multiple living arrangements, as well.

The 32-year-old company that runs Coffee Creek, 2801 Shortgrass Road, has a simple mission statement: to touch people’s lives.

Melissa Mahaffey, executive director, says her residents are looking to remain active and enjoy an elegant lifestyle.

“Truly everybody wants the best for their mom and dad once they get to retirement,” Mahaffey says. “They’ve worked hard all their lives. They’ve saved up. The high level of expectation of customer service is there. Quality of life is very important.”

But seniors can expect to pay for it. Medicare doesn’t pay for independent or assisted living, leaving the vast majority of residents paying for their arrangements out of their savings or, in the case of nursing care, through privately held long-term-care insurance.

According to the Bright Focus Foundation, independent-living communities range nationally from $1,300 to $2,500 per month.

Assisted-living facilities can range greatly, but average around $3,000 per month. Skilled- nursing or retirement-home options generally run about $6,000 per month.

For Harned, the Epworth renovation is about changing the way seniors see their retirement.

“That’s really what we think our mission and ministry is: to influence the culture in Oklahoma,” he says. “By providing the leading-edge example to others, we believe other organizations will be willing to come along and others will be required to come along.”