11 May Northaven Senior Living- Banding Together to Care For Low Income Elders
Northaven Senior Living, located in the Northgate neighborhood across from the Post Office, is a friendly place. The all glass entrance to Northaven Independent Living opens into a modest and comfortable common space. Northaven Assisted Living is tucked safely behind the main building. It too opens into a comfortable common space where I found two ladies dozing and one anxious to engage me as I waited to talk with Assisted Living Director, Mary Quarterman, and Foundation Director, Bill Dorn. I enjoyed sitting in the safe, unpretentious and welcoming atmosphere. I never imagined it was on the front lines of Seattle’s “quiet crisis.”
The Quiet Crisis report, 2009, drew a troubling picture of Seattle’s aging population which is expected to peak in 2025. The numbers will double but so will the numbers of elders in poverty. That’s a picture that Northaven is already seeing. “Our admissions coordinator says that for every 1 person that can pay privately 6 to 7 are on Medicaid,” said Quarterman. “There’s really a sense of desperation building in the community.”
Northaven is uniquely committed to serving low and moderate income seniors with affordable housing. The community offers 198 units of independent living and 40 assisted living apartments which are usually at full capacity. Most of the residents in Independent Living qualify for section 8 housing and more than 60% of their census in Assisted Living is on Medicaid, a government program that kicks in when an elder has no more than $2,000 in lifetime assets remaining. “The reality is that our residents have worked hard all their lives, saved their money, but simply outlived their resources,” Dorn explained. On Medicaid, seniors turn over all pension or social security earnings, which are applied to care, and receive an allowance of just $62.79 each month with which to pay for telephone, dental needs, clothing, uncovered medical costs, haircuts etc. That’s right $62.79– monthly or $750.00—per year.
Northaven is one of just a handful of Seattle housing options where low income seniors on Medicaid can access Assisted Living care. Within that small community, it’s unique for 3 reasons:
First, board leadership displays a solid and enduring commitment to the mission of housing low income seniors with dignity and care. That standard was set when Northaven was established in the 70’s by a group of brethren from Olympic View Community Church who secured the loan for the 198 original independent units by mortgaging their own homes! It continues today as the current board dipped into personal investments and 401 K plans to loan $750,000 to Northaven Foundation to help secure land for Northaven’s planned expansion. “That level of commitment is humbling and invigorates staff,” said Quarterman. “We’re weaving that mission back into our work.”
Secondly, when assisted living was added twenty years later, so that residents with increasingly complex care needs could stay in the same community, it created financial challenges due to added care costs. In response, the Northaven Foundation formed to raise funds for quality nursing, wellness programs, and personal care where Medicaid failed to suffice. “Medicaid keeps reimbursing at lower and lower rates–now just 75% of the cost of basic care,” stated Dorn. “The Foundation funding model is hard but we have a lot of gracious families and donors many of which don’t have a lot of resources themselves,” he noted.
Thirdly, Northaven is unique in the way their care community comes together to make it work. When the elevator broke, requiring more than $16,000 to repair Northaven started a GoFundMe social media campaign. The resident’s staff aides collected over $670.00. “I think it was a Friday,” Quarterman reminisced. “They brought me a money order. I think they all signed it! They said, ‘These are our people, this is our family, and we want to be part of the solution.'” Northaven is still raising money for that elevator. Would you like to help?
Residents that rely on Medicaid, Dorn explained, are often more disenfranchised and in need of added support. To meet those needs Northaven contracts with outside care partners such as Providence ElderPlace and develops creative programming. To illustrate, Dorn described a drumming circle he’d observed. “You can see that residents, who had been withdrawn, start to engage and soon they’re drumming together; all in rhythm.” To help residents stay in touch with family and friends, Northaven sought and received grants from the City of Seattle and the Employees Community Fund of Boeing Puget Sound to provide computers and Wi-Fi. “My computer is my life,” Assisted Living resident Geri Boyd wrote in thanks to the Employees Community Fund. “When you age you lose things. First I lost my car, then when I came here, my computer [connectivity]. I love it here and getting Wi-Fi just amplifies it for me.”
Northaven exemplifies how commitment, creative funding models and multiple modest investments can help to meet low income seniors’ needs. Their endurance and success provides hope and inspiration but they can only help a few. To buffer the coming “quiet crisis” it will take creative funding and commitment on a city wide level. Northaven’s board and staff didn’t turn away from the challenge and neither can we.