Posh retirement communities are easing the transition for active seniors, while easing the minds of their adult children
Story by Susan Fotovich McCabe
Considering Kansas City’s wide array of senior living selections, you might be surprised by the resort-like feel of choices on both sides of the state line. From the outside, there’s no doubt that the city’s larger retirement communities have successfully achieved the curb appeal that beckons residents and their families to their front doors. Once inside, the visual aesthetics, amenities and diversity of activities are sure to please the most discerning tastes.
According to Chet Surmaczewic, executive director of Olathe’s Santa Marta senior living community, that is the intent. “Our focus is hospitality and the experience you receive at Santa Marta,” Surmaczewic says. “We’re very similar to a fine resort. We want to positively impact each of the five senses. It’s just as much about the environment and experience as it is the clinical support one would receive when transitioning to a senior living community.”
Santa Marta is one of several continuing care retirement communities (CCRC) in the metro. These communities typically offer a variety of services within one setting including housing, social activities and increased levels of care as needs change. Santa Marta’s 45-acre, Tuscan-inspired campus provides adults over the age of 62 their choice among private villas and apartment homes in an exclusive setting. Its residents enjoy a full range of services and amenities, including a full healthcare continuum; maintenance-free living; two full-service dining venues; heated underground parking; a chapel, library and an arts and crafts studio; and a fitness and aquatic center.
In addition, Santa Marta’s healthcare continuum offers three levels of care, including 32 assisted living apartments, 16 memory support suites and 32 skilled nursing suites. These services are available both as part of the full continuum of care for residents and for the community at large on a private-pay basis.
Surmaczewic believes residents should feel a sense of hospitality without a tone of arrogance. Botticelli’s, Santa Marta’s dining room, is equivalent to any freestanding, upscale restaurant, he says. For example, Botticelli’s rotating menu features everything from filet of beef and grilled salmon to four-cheese macaroni, pan-fried rainbow trout and BBQ ribs.
“When I travel for business and I show other professionals our menu, they always ask, ‘How can you do that much?’ and I respond, ‘How can you not do that much?’ We want our residents to have variety and to be in control of their choices,” Surmaczewic says.
That sense of choice is something Tallgrass Creek, an Overland Park continuing care retirement community, strives to achieve. Executive Director Peter Crane says Tallgrass Creek made the unusual decision to not have an activities director on staff in an effort to promote resident-run interests. “The stigma with coming into a retirement community is that someone is going to make you do something,” Crane says. “We want and expect residents to drive their own interests.”
Tallgrass Creek’s resident-run activities span the gamut, but some of the more common ones include ballroom dancing, golf, gardening, woodshop and quilting, as well as more specific interests like the Treasure Chest Committee, the Interfaith Committee and the Veterans Club. Tallgrass Creek’s many amenities are close at hand, including two restaurants, a fitness center, an all-season pool, a library, barber and hair salons, a music classroom, a computer lab and a games room.
Yet, what truly makes a difference for residents at Tallgrass Creek is the bond between the staff and the men and women who call it home, according to Crane. “We could have the nicest buildings in town, but what’s more important is that we have a person-centered community,” he explains. “Our employees must have a servant’s heart to provide the care our residents deserve. We can always train people for the right skills, but first impressions are everything. The relationship with our staff begins and ends at the front door.”
Equally important is an extension of that relationship to the family of its residents. “Some of our residents’ families are local and some are out of town, so family members need to feel connected from our executive director to our housekeepers,” Crane says.
Across the state line, continuity is critical to the success of John Knox Village, a CCRC in Lee’s Summit. In fact, the “over time approach” is what makes an ideal retirement community, according to Vice President of Senior Living Maria Timberlake. That continuity extends to medical care, the comforts of home and staff relationships. “We want our residents to thrive in a way that’s their way,” she notes. “Sometimes it takes awhile, but they will find their way just like they have through other important transitions in their lives.”
John Knox Village’s mission is to “serve older adults wherever they live.” The key, according to Timberlake, is to provide a mix of onsite and off-campus activities for a range of interests. For instance, John Knox Village features popular amenities like restaurants and pools, a hair salon and a library. Additionally, its 450-acre campus features a nine-hole Par 3 golf course, a bowling alley, a chapel, an art studio, gift shops and guest rooms.
Closer to Kansas City’s cultural core is Bishop Spencer Place, a CCRC located on the Country Club Plaza. Mendi Hanna, director of marketing and development at Bishop Spencer Place, says its unique setting and ties to the St. Luke’s Health System are part of its appeal.
“We’re in the heart of theater, culture, music and the arts,” Hanna says. “And we’re located within a 10-mile radius of most suburban communities on both sides of the state line. Our residents want to live close to family, whether that resident used to live in Leawood and Mission Hills or whether they lived out of town and moved here to be closer to their family in those communities.”
Bishop Spencer Place emphasizes terms like “active,” “vibrant” and “sociable” as well as “tranquil,” “leisurely” and “private” to describe its settings and amenities, including dining by PB&J, owners of several quality Kansas City restaurants. Other amenities include musical recitals and concerts by top-notch performers, poetry and many other activities. In December, Bishop Spencer Place added a number of holiday extras, from a holiday lights tour to the Dickens Carolers and the Jazz Carol Fest.
In all four communities, residents can participate in off-campus trips for entertainment or just the basics like grocery shopping and church services. More importantly, each provides medical support and assistance that residents can access as their needs evolve.
Residents from virtually every economic background qualify to live in these communities. Eligibility is based on financial assets and monthly income. While residents pay a sizeable entrance fee, it can be tapped for medical use or reallocated if they choose to leave the community. Most CCRCs have a benevolent care fund as well, which is used to support residents who have exhausted their entrance fee. A monthly service fee is also required.