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Faith Based Assisted Living & Retirement Communities

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Faith Based Assisted Living & Retirement Communities

As we age and become wiser, with a more expansive view on life, faith can become an integral part of our lives and can play a pivotal role in our decisions.  Many seniors are contemplating a move to an assisted living facility.  Faith-based assisted living facilities represent ¾ of the largest assisted living facilities in the U.S.

Many seniors find that they are no longer able to live on their own and need help on a daily basis.  The common solution is assisted living.  In these facilities, caregivers are available to individually help residents with common daily living tasks.  These include, dressing, eating, grooming, and taking medication.  Not only is important to find affordable assisted living facilities, it is also important to find the ones that will meet all of your needs, including emotional and religious. Faith-based assisted living provides these same services as other assisted living facilities, with an added religious affiliation.

Role of Faith-Based Assisted Living

69% of seniors over 65 years of age report that religion is “very important” to them.  That is significantly higher than the general population where 56% report religion being very important.  By the time they reach their senior years, religion has become part of a senior’s identity.

A religious order can provide a community around its members.  It provides a network of helping resources of like minded people who have similar values.  Religious practices and beliefs are reported as significantly aiding seniors with the aging process.  This includes declining physical ability and relocation to a faith-based assisted living facility, as well as grieving for others who are no longer living.

Many in the medical profession acknowledge that religion provides a structure for understanding the purpose of life, of having hope, a reason for living and for getting better.  Religious can also lessen the symptoms of depression, common during the process of moving to an assisted living facility.

  • The New York Times has published a survey where 54% of doctors report that belief in God can positively affect patient health.  33% said religion and spirituality reduce medical events like heart attacks, infections, and death.
  • 74% of doctors believe that religion gives seniors a positive outlook.
  • 55% of doctors believe that religion provides emotional and practical support through religious communities.
  • Higher levels of spirituality and religiosity are associated with slower progression of Alzheimer’s disease.  This is observed across all faiths.
  • The University of Missouri-Columbia study found religion to have an important impact on residents with chronic disabilities and suggests care providers to encourage religious practice that are important to patients.

Overview of Faith Based Retirement Communities

80% of continuing care retirement communities in the United States are owned and operated by nonprofit organizations.  Two-thirds of those are run as faith-based assisted living facilities.  Faith-based assisted living is the natural progression of the purpose and mission of many religions.

Faith-based assisted living facilities are administered much like non-religious facilities.  There are fees, rules and contracts.  However, many consider that faith-based assisted living facilities are more likely to “see the whole person” and better provide for the human, spiritual, and social needs.

Faith-based senior living facilities provide the same services and practices of the faith.  Services are held conveniently in the same building, on-site so it is relatively easy for residents to attend.  There is assistance available to escort residents to and from services.

Staff is generally trained in aspects of the faith or share that faith.  Some staff or volunteers might read religious passages to residents or pray with them.

Faith-based assisted living facilities are usually affiliated with area churches or orders who provide volunteers.  These volunteers contribute in various role, such as caregivers, ministers, Bible study leaders, or other faith-based roles.

Moving to a religion-based assisted living facility allows residents to maintain their worship and spiritual pattern and traditions.  Services and group meetings are held in the same building and physical assistance is provided to attend.

Residents of faith-based assisted living communities can become active participants in the worship services.  There are usually opportunities to preach, teach, facilitate prayer groups, Bible studies, direct or sing in choir, play an instrument, work A/V system, or escort other residents to service.

Unique offerings of faith-based assisted living facilities:

  • On-site religious service and practice
  • Bible study
  • Prayer times
  • Prayer meetings
  • Group discussions
  • Religious artwork
  • Before-meal prayer

Though most are religion-based assisted living facilities, these facilities also accept non-faith residents or residents of a different faith.  Residents do not have to share service and have no religious participation requirement.

Types of Religion Based Assisted Living Facilities

Jewish Senior Living

1 in 50 Americans are Jewish.  Jewish assisted living facilities tend to be located where there is a high concentration of Jewish communities.  Such areas include northeast and southeast Florida, among others.

The Association of Jewish Aging Services is a non-profit Jewish community-based association aimed at providing services to the aging population.  There are approximately 100 non-profit Jewish senior living organizations.  There are 130 Jewish-sponsored faith-based assisted living facilities in the United States.

Unique offerings of Jewish Faith-based Assisted Living Facilities:

  • Kosher food
  • Celebrate Jewish holy days
  • Offer Jewish services
  • Observe the Sabbath
  • Resident Rabbi
  • Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living even houses a Jewish Heritage Museum

Some Jewish retirement communities have holocaust survivors as residents.  These residents are prone to flashbacks and there is staff on hand to assist.  PTSD is more common among holocaust survivors in dementia care units.

Jewish faith-based assisted living facilities tend to have non-denominational management.

Largest National Providers of Jewish Faith-Based Assisted Living are:

  • Hebrew Senior Life, Inc.
  • Association of Jewish Aging Services – not a provider itself, but they do provide a really useful map of all Jewish senior communities throughout the U.S.

Catholic Assisted Living

Pew Research reports that 1 in 4 American are practicing Catholics or refer to themselves as Catholic.

Unique features of Catholic assisted living facilities are:

  • Daily Mass
  • Daily Confessional
  • Daily Communion
  • Celebration of Catholic holidays

5 Largest National Providers of Catholic senior living are:

  1. Benedictine Health System
  2. Ascension Senior Living
  3. Trinity Senior Living Community fka Trinity health Senior Communities
  4. Presence Life Connections
  5. The Carmelite System, Inc.

Protestant Assisted Living

Half the population of the United States refers to themselves as Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, or Quaker.

Unique offerings of Protestant faith-based assisted living facilities are:

  • Nightly Vesper Services
  • Honoring and participating in church ceremonies, rituals, and activities

5 Largest National Providers of Protestant Faith Based Assisted Living are:

  1. The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society (Lutheran)
  2. Presbyterian Homes & Services
  3. Covenant Retirement Communities (Presbyterian)
  4. HumanGood fka Cornerstone (ABHOW & be.group) (Baptist)
  5. Retirement Housing Foundation (Protestant)

Faith Specific Questions to Ask a Religion-Based Assisted Living Facility

Deciding to move to a religion based assisted living facility is just like making a decision on any move.  You need to consider your current and future needs, what is available, and compare the choices to determine the most suitable solution for your situation.  Moving can be emotionally stressful.  A move to a faith-based retirement community should be considered a long-term housing decision, not as a temporary solution.

For faith-based guidance, consider consulting your current priest, minister or rabbi for suggestions.  Those in the religious practice will probably know first hand or have access to information within the faith.  Faith-based networks of information can be extensive so sometimes it is best to ask within the faith.

A doctor or health care provider is a good source of information for referrals to local facilities.  A doctor is also a good judge of what services are currently required and might be required in the future.

Most U.S. hospitals are faith-based and are a good source of information for referrals.  Out-patient services or case managers are usually well versed in local faith-based assisted living facilities and their practices. Before moving to assisted living with a religious affiliation, there are certain questions you should ask the facility management staff.

Specific Questions to Ask About Religion Based Practices:

  • How is staff and caregivers taught about faith?
  • Are traditional meals, beverages, or treats available?
  • What sacraments are available on-site?
  • How does the facility observe holy days?
  • Which order of faith is affiliated with the facility?
  • Which language are services available in?

25 Largest National Faith Based Retirement Communities:

Every year, LeadingAge and Ziegler Underwriting compiles a list and ranking of non-profit organization that own and operate senior living facilities.  These are ranked based on total number of market rate units.

  1. National Senior Campuses (no specified affiliation)
  2. The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society (Lutheran)
  3. ACTS Retirement Services, Inc. (nondenominational)
  4. Presbyterian Homes & Services
  5. Benedictine Health System (Catholic)
  6. Covenant Retirement Communities (Presbyterian)
  7. HumanGood fka Cornerstone (ABHOW & be.group) (Baptist)
  8. Ascension Senior Living (Catholic)
  9. Trinity Senior Living Community fka Trinity health Senior Communities (Catholic)
  10. Retirement Housing Foundation (Protestant)
  11. Lifespace Communities, Inc. (no specified affiliation)
  12. The Kendal Corporation (Quaker)
  13. Lutheran Senior Services
  14. Presbyterian Senior Living
  15. Asbury Communities (Methodist)
  16. Presence Life Connections (Catholic)
  17. Westminster Communities of Florida (Presbyterian)
  18. The Carmelite System, Inc. (Catholic)
  19. Ohio Living fka Ohio Presbyterian Retirement Services
  20. Pacific Retirement Services, Inc. (Protestant)
  21. Front Porch Communities and Services (Lutheran)
  22. Volunteers of America (nondenominational)
  23. Masonic Villages of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania
  24. Diakon Lutheran Social Ministries
  25. Ecumen (Lutheran)

The full list is 150 organizations.  It changes year to year, but it is usually the same names shifting positions.

Are Faith-Based Assisted Living Facilities Legal?

The “Faith-Based Initiatives” term began under the George W. Bush presidency.  It became part of the Charitable Choice provision of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act signed into law by President Clinton.  In this act, it states that a religious organization retain “its independence from Federal, State, or local governments, including such organization’s control over the definition, development, practice, and expression of its religious beliefs.”  It also provides that “neither the Federal Government nor a State shall require a religious organization to (a) alter its form of internal governance; or (b) remove religious art, icons, scripture, or other symbols”.  The act goes on to state a religious organization may not refuse to serve anyone on the basis of their religion or their refusal to participate in religious practice.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, or disability.  Religion based retirement communities must still abide by the Fair Housing Act in that they cannot indicate a preference or limit applications based on religion.

In 2004, the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) adopted Faith-Based Initiatives in all HUD programs.  This allows equal participation of religious organizations in HUD programs and activities.  This participation prohibits an organization from engaging in “inherently religious activities”.  This would include worship or religious instruction.  However, there is a qualification that these religious activities might be offered separately and that these activities must be voluntary and for the benefit of the resident.

This qualification explains why services are offered separately by voluntary participation and why these faith-based senior living facilities accept residents of different faiths.  Residents are allowed based on the Fair Housing Act.  Services are voluntary and not compulsory based on HUD Faith-Based Initiatives funding qualifications.

Moreover, accepting Medicare requires a faith-based assisted living facility to meet the federal guidelines.  Those guidelines govern quality of care and resident protocol.  They do not address religious affiliation and there is no exemption to these guidelines for religious organizations.

Moving to a Religion Based Retirement Community

Many Americans are deeply religious and many are not.  What we believe and what we practice are deeply personal issues.  The majority of people are good and caring people.  The majority of church and religious congregations act in a manner that attempts to serve and provide care and compassion.  Rarely are those services reserved for a select few, but in service for the good of the community as a whole.

The aging process can be sad, depressing, and lonely.  Maintaining a positive outlook is key, regardless of your religious affiliation.  Being around caring and compassionate people who truly believe in what they do can make coping with the aging process less painful.

Living in a faith-based assisted living facility or senior community does not require a resident to observe or participate in any particular religious practice.  There are plenty of senior living communities that are not faith-based or observe no preference for any specific faith, nondenominational.

Where we live is a personal decision.  Our values, beliefs and customs determine who we are.  In the end, the decision of where we live falls to where we feel most comfortable.  Where are the people who are friendly, who provide quality care?  Where can we live where we can receive the services that we need and where visitors are welcome? The final decision should be entirely up to you.