Group homes grow as trend

Seniors gain companionship, 24-hour care in small home-like residences


In October, eight seniors will move into a Highlands Ranch home, cared for by a live-in staff that helps them with everyday tasks, from bathing to shopping. The home also provides much-needed social outlets for companionship.

“The companionship helps them avoid isolation,” said Adele Barbera, administrator and co-owner of Blue Spruce Assisted Living II, scheduled to open in the 2500 block of Pemberly Avenue not far from Wildcat Reserve and Poston parkways.

At a September Highlands Ranch Community Association meeting, residents worried about how the group home would affect their neighborhood, citing concerns about increased traffic, proper licensing and business operations.

The Blue Spruce home is the third small assisted-living facility for seniors in Highlands Ranch, according to state health records. The other two licensed homes are in the 9900 block of Silver Maple Road and the 2900 block of Clairton Drive.

Compared to other cities in the Denver-metro area, group homes are less common in Highlands Ranch, but their growing numbers reflect the area's aging population. The Douglas County Senior Initiative, an organization studying resources and needs of seniors, estimates by the year 2040, 25 percent of Douglas County's population will be older than 60.

Homes that provide assisted living for small groups of seniors in residential areas are emerging as a growing housing option, Barbera said.

“It's the way of the future,” she said. “The idea is to provide them with a house in the suburbs, where they would normally live. They're just not able to live alone.”

Douglas County defines a group home as “a residence that provides non-institutional housing for persons living as a single housekeeping unit,” which can include people with developmental disabilities, a mental illness or people 60 and older who do not require nursing facilities.

The Blue Spruce and the Silver Maple Road homes serve only seniors who need help with daily care. The Herald was unable to reach a spokesperson for the Clairton Drive home.

Results of a survey of 648 seniors by the Douglas County Senior Initiative identified accessible housing and accessible and affordable transportation as the three most difficult services to find in the county.

Many factors can contribute to where a group home is needed, and one includes a demand for housing for seniors, said Brian J. Connolly, a land-use attorney in Denver and co-author of “Group Homes: Strategies for Effective and Defensible Planning and Regulation.”

Barbera believes the need for group homes for seniors exists everywhere. Having that option helps them remain in their communities. Additionally, friends and family generally prefer to live nearby, and group homes make it convenient for visits or to pick them up for an outing, she said.

But their location in single-family, residential areas can sometimes spark debate in neighborhoods.

At the Sept. 16 HRCA meeting, five residents expressed some concern about the new Blue Spruce home. They said they welcome seniors moving into the community, but worry it will be operated as a business rather than a dwelling. They also are concerned about it being properly licensed for medical care of the seniors living there.

Calls for comment to a resident representative were not returned by press time.

Initial concerns among neighbors are not uncommon, Connolly said. However, most concerns arise from misinformation. “There's almost no difference from having a group home or a family” home in the neighborhood, he said.

A group home provides seniors with the care they need, but in a dwelling with a home-like feel. The Blue Spruce homes allow residents to bring in their own items such as quilts, pictures and even furniture.

The smaller size is a benefit, Barbera said, because residents can have “eyes on them 24 hours a day.”

Another benefit is the social aspect of living with others.

Because these seniors often are unable to interact outside the home easily, group home operators solicit community involvement. Barbera said it is common for church groups to visit frequently or Girl Scouts to deliver cookies.

Group homes strive to keep the same staff for many years, Barbera said, so occupants form solid relationships with care providers.

“My staff knows how they want their coffee,” she said, “or when they want to go to bed every night.”

Aging in place — a common phrase Barbera said operators of group homes abide by — is defined by The Centers for Disease Control as “the ability to live in one's own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income or ability level.”

Group homes live by that motto, Barbera said. For them, it means seniors have a place of residency where they “can come and be part of a family.”


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