Mike cote’s business editor’s notebook seniors getting comfortable with continuing-care retirement new hampshire gas weed strain

Two years ago, Birch Hill received approval from the New Hampshire Department of Insurance to become an affiliate of The RiverWoods Group, the nonprofit parent company of RiverWoods Exeter, a continuing care retirement community that operates 400 apartments spread out over three campuses there.

The affiliation led to a $9 million renovation project at Birch Hill that included building a new multipurpose room used for events and expanding the fitness center. Both are three times as large. The dining room and kitchen also are getting upgrades as are flooring and handrails throughout the complex.

"The old dining room was fine, but this next generation of people, they’ve traveled all over the world. They have very specific culinary expectations," says Cathleen Toomey, vice president of marketing for The RiverWoods Group, during a recent tour.

RiverWoods is aiming to ignite the kind of interest the nonprofit has seen in Exeter and Durham. Its new complex in Durham, with 150 apartments and a 72-bed health care facility, sold out in six weeks – two years before it’s scheduled to open.

"Birch Hill is in the rare position," Toomey says. "We are able to offer people apartments now without a wait list. RiverWoods Exeter has a five-year wait list for every apartment. RiverWoods Durham has a wait list. This is the only place you can get into now. We have some good incentives because we want to help people be enthusiastic about moving in while we are in the process of renovation."

Continuing-care retirement communities (CCRCs) are the most expensive of all long-term care options, according to AARP. They require substantial entrance fees as well as monthly payments. Compared to RiverWoods’ Exeter and Durham communities, Birch Hill is more affordable.

At Birch Hill, the entrance fee starts at $161,000 for a one-bedroom apartment with one bathroom, with half that amount refundable to the person if he moves or to his estate after his death. Properties range from one- and two-bedroom apartments to larger cottages. Monthly fees start at $2,975, based on the size of the property. The community includes independent living, assisted living, memory care and nursing care.

Part of the challenge for marketing Birch Hill is a general lack of awareness about CCRCs as well as Birch Hill’s long history, Toomey says. The retirement community, which sits on a hilltop off of Hackett Hill Road, was previously known as Hillcrest Terrace apartments and Pearl Manor nursing home. Catholic Medical Center and the Elliot Hospital spun off their respective ownership of the two entities in 2004 to an independent nonprofit organization.

There are about 1,900 CCRCs nationwide, including seven in New Hampshire, where the concept is less widely known as it is in some other parts of the country, Toomey says. Even though Birch Hill has been a CCRC since 2009, it still suffers from some local stigma, she says.

"As I’m introducing myself to the residents within this community, I will say, ‘How do you find the community?’ They will say ‘I didn’t think I was going to be as busy as I am. I’m too busy,’" Phypers says. "That’s great because you can decide how busy you want to be, but you don’t have to be lonely. If you want to do a card game, you walk down the hall as opposed to getting in your car and driving to a site for seniors."