ST. PETERSBURG — The city's first new assisted living facility in 15 years, according to the developer, opens this month, with 200 apartments, Alzheimer's care and programs for at-home caregivers that local experts say are much needed.
On a recent tour, executive director Monique Spruill, 35, was getting antsy. She wants to see residents filling the spaces she's showing: a cafe, salon, game room, library and closest to her heart, activity centers that allow residents with memory loss to replay their lives.
She chokes up as she gestures to shared living space in the "memory support unit" at Brentwood Senior Living Community. Here, patients with dementia will find hands-on stations: a working kitchen, a dress-up area, a nursery with realistic dolls, a workbench, a desk, an ironing area where the irons lack cords.
Folding towels comforts elderly women. Playing with baby clothes excites them.
"We really bring life to them," she says.
Brentwood Senior Living Community, at 6280 Central Ave., took shape on the site of the former Swanholm Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, in recent years vacant property stripped down to an ugly concrete box.
Now 200 apartments rise behind 8,000 square feet of space for medical offices, including a doctor's office and a medical equipment business. Inspectors are making final visits, and residents should be able to move in May 15.
It's not the only senior housing in the county to offer hands-on dementia care. But programs that give at-home caregivers access to the space fill a very real need, said Beverly Burton, senior resource director at the Area Agency on Aging of Pasco-Pinellas.
Brentwood will offer a day program for nonresidents, where a daughter caring for her mother with Alzheimer's might drop her off for four to 12 hours for $55 to $136. It also offers an overnight program for those with Sundowners Syndrome, who are active while caregivers sleep.
Burton calls it "a real support for working caregivers. There really aren't enough options."
Mark Benson, a Medicaid waiver specialist at the agency who regularly visits assisted living facilities, says some "dementia care" is just locked doors and an additional guard to keep residents from walking off. Keeping them engaged, instead, is unusual and welcome.
"I have great expectations for the facility," he said.
The project, by local developer William Karns Enterprises and operator Senior Management Advisors of Clearwater, was built with a loan for senior housing insured by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Karns purchased the 3-acre property in 2007 for about $4 million, planning to build affordable condos. The project shifted with zoning changes in 2008 that allowed for mixed use, including retail.
He looked for a management company that would become a part owner, and found Senior Management Advisors, which operates 10 facilities in Florida and Georgia, including Grand Villa of Largo. Spruill was executive director there for four years, turning around a struggling, dilapidated facility.
So while families looking to place their loved ones won't have any past inspection reports to look at for brand-new Brentwood, they can look at reports for Grand Villa and talk with families there, Benson said. The Agency for Health Care Administration requires that surveys and complaints be made available on site. Both biannual surveys at Grand Villa under Spruill were deficiency-free, she said. A handful of complaints against the facility were unfounded, according to AHCA, and Grand Villa is appealing findings in one recent complaint about the care of a woman just before she left for hospice care.
"It's not always perfect," Spruill said. "But we tell families we try really, really hard."
Assisted living is mostly private-pay, and isn't cheap. On average last year, facilities reported charging an average monthly fee of $3,022 for private units, according to the National Center for Assisted Living. Some help is available through Medicaid and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
At Brentwood, residents can rent private apartments with contracts that include food and other assistance starting at $2,900 a month. Private spaces in the memory support unit, where there are 17 apartments, start at $3,700.
The blend of services at that price attracted Debi Mitchell, 53, to Brentwood for her in-laws.
Ginny and Mike Mitchell will move in as soon their apartment opens. Ginny, 80, could probably live on her own in the St. Petersburg home she has shared with her husband for 58 years. But care for him was getting harder. He started to forget things. A son visited to bathe him and help with yard work. He's now 84, and Ginny worried she couldn't do it alone.
"Now he doesn't know he can't remember," she said.
At Brentwood, they'll share an apartment, but if she goes out, he can visit the memory support unit. She'll do their laundry, though she wouldn't have to. She can keep the man she met at Webb's City all those years ago nearby, as long as possible.
She can skip the cooking and cleaning, and find a shaded courtyard to do what she enjoys: reading romance novels.
Becky Bowers can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8859. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/bbowerstimes.