Study to gauge senior housing needs in area

10/8/2013

County approves funding for independent assessment.

County approves funding for independent assessment.

BY SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

The Finney County Commission on Monday approved a request from the county's economic development organization to spend $22,000 to hire a consultant to conduct a market demand assessment that will analyze the local need for senior independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing facilities.

The FCEDC sought permission from the county to hire the Buckley Group, a Colorado-based health care consulting and management group. The firm offers expertise in three main areas: market studies, business plans and strategy development, with a focus on helping hospitals, retirement communities and other health care and social service providers find and implement operational and strategic solutions.

The study costs $20,500, plus another $1,500 in expenses. To pay for it, the county agreed to dip into a joint special projects fund that both the county and city of Garden City contribute to but the county controls.

Half the money will be paid immediately. The other half will be paid when the study is completed. Buckley told local officials it could start within three to four weeks, and the study itself will take about eight weeks to complete.

"As you recall, a little over a year ago we did a regular housing study, and that cost about $10,000," Tom Walker, FCEDC board chairman, said. "The reason for this particular study being so much more is it is more in-depth and detailed."

The need for the study grew from conversations FCEDC officials had with individuals in the local medical community who asked what the FCEDC was doing to address senior housing and skilled nursing care. Currently, there are two skilled nursing and one assisted living facility in Garden City.

Lona DuVall, FCEDC president, said Buckley will come to Finney County to conduct in-person interviews and hold discussions with a variety of individuals and groups with a stake in senior living, such as those in the medical community and realtors. The study will look at existing facilities and identify future needs, looking at a variety of demographics such as population growth trends by age group, trends in home construction sales and home values.

DuVall said that the goal is to have the study lead to the construction of a complete retirement community with different types of housing that addresses the variety of needs of seniors in the community.

The definition of seniors includes anyone 55 and older, DuVall said, not just people who would need something like skilled nursing or assisted living. It also would address housing needs for people looking to downsize out of a larger home, something that could help the community's overall housing crunch when those larger homes go on the market.

"Obviously, it's a quality of life issue," DuVall said. "Every year, we're exporting our seniors out of the community, and I don't think that's how we want to be viewed. I think folks who built their lives here and helped grow the community should be able to retire in their community and have a good healthy retirement here."

A retirement community could offer components of all three types of housing — independent living, assisted living and skilled care — and may include recreational facilities and meal preparation and food services.

DuVall said it would not be a county-operated facility, but would be built and operated by the private sector. However, she said, builders of these types of facilities need the study results when going to investors, boards of directors or financial institutions to get backing for the project.

"It's just like our housing study, if you're wondering why we would spend money on it. We don't have a choice. The only way these large corporations can do the financing and make the business case for doing it is if we provide the proof that the need exists. We can't just tell them the need exists. We have to have an outside study that says that," she said.

The commission voted 4-1 to fund the study, with Commissioner Duane Drees voting no.

"It seems to me you're asking taxpayers to pay for a study to do (the builders') homework for them," Drees said.

DuVall said the only way to entice companies that specialize in retirement communities to build here is to do the study. It's no different than seeking out home builders in Kansas City, Wichita or Denver and urging them to build here, she said.

"We're asking them to come make an investment in our community, and the only way to do that is to show we're willing to invest and show proof that we need this," she said.

DuVall added that if a retirement community is built, it won't be nonprofit. It will contribute to the tax rolls, so the study would pay for itself in additional tax revenue.

Commissioner Dave Jones pointed out that most of the joint economic development fund used to pay for the study is made up of the proceeds of the sale of the TP&L property a few years ago, not tax money. The fund has more than $800,000 in it.

"If we didn't have funds available, I wouldn't be very excited about it," Commissioner Larry Jones said. "But we've got the funds sitting in that account."

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