This week on Make It Last Radio, Victor had the opportunity to interview Andy Fritz and Kelly Astbury of Homestead at Hamilton, an independent and assisted living community. Tune in to hear about Homestead’s “successful aging” philosophy and all about what makes Homestead a unique community.
If you would like more information on Homestead at Hamilton, Andy and Kelly encourage you to visit their community at 2560 Kuser Rd Hamilton, NJ or visit their website: www.homesteadathamilton.com
Make It Last with Victor Medina is hosted by Victor J. Medina, an estate planning and Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA®) and Certified Financial Planner™ professional (CFP). Through his law firm and independent registered investment advisory company, Victor provides 360º Wealth Protection Strategies for individuals in or nearing retirement.
Click below to read the full transcript…
Victor Medina: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to Make It Last. I’m your host, Victor Medina. I’m so glad you can join us this Saturday morning.
I’ve got two guests on today, Andy Fritz and Kelly Astbury from Homestead in Hamilton. They were in my office. We were chatting about what they were doing. I just hit the record button because I figured it would make a great show. It did make a great show. We’re going to join that interview in progress. You’re going to be listening to them talk about what they do.
Now, we didn’t give a proper introduction to Homestead in Hamilton. It’s an assisted living, independent living facility or community that’s based in Hamilton, New Jersey. When we got into the interview, we were already talking with Kelly about some of her programming, what she does there.
I want you to stick with that. Then you’ll hear everything you need to about Homestead. I think it’s a great, novel choice out in the industry when you think about how to transition away from your home and into something else. Here we go with Andy Fritz and Kelly Astbury from Homestead at Hamilton.
How big of a dance studio…In other words, are there classes that happen every week?
Kelly: Yes, we offer classes…
Kelly: Yes, six days a week. It’s pretty much a school‑year activity, September to June, but then we also offer summer camps and summer classes.
Victor: Different styles, all kinds of styles?
Kelly: Different…Tap, ballet, jazz, hip hop, lyrical, adult fitness classes.
Victor: What is the difference between lyrical and anything else?
Kelly: Lyrical, the way that I explain it is it’s a combination between jazz and ballet.
Victor: I don’t know if this would be right, because I’m such an idiot, but if I’ve seen Alvin Ailey’s Dance Troupe, it’s like ballet, but it’s very flowy, and…
Kelly: That would be actually more modern.
Victor: There’s no chance that I have any idea.
Kelly: You know what I say to people? Picture someone dancing to a Celine Dion song. That is lyrical dance.
Andy Fritz: Like interpretive dance?
Kelly: You know how she just has a beautiful, powerful, songy voice? That is more like lyrical dance.
Victor: What do you do when you’re not running your dance studio that’s related to Homestead Hamilton?
Kelly: What do I do? What don’t I do? I’m just kidding. Basically, for Homestead, I’m currently the program director, so I’m responsible for all of the successful aging programming that we have in place, from activities, events, trips. I am actually transferring into the role of director of hospitality.
As I transfer into that role, I will have less to do with the day‑to‑day programing and more to do with community outreach and sharing with the community what Homestead is all about.
Victor: OK. That’s great. I remember I came in and visited before it was fully open and while everyone’s still in strip mall, and got a look at what was going on. I really thought that’s some of your ideas would be very, very novel, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to have you come on in.
Kelly: Absolutely. Yes. Thank you.
Victor: For sure. I thought that was going to be important. You can do me a favor and you guys point that microphone little bit more towards the pie hole. Excellent.
I really found the living arrangement much more interesting. In one of the things that I’ve experienced too from the perspective of an elder law attorney, I get to see them all along a spectrum. Sometimes worse thing you can handle it before they might be really appropriate for moving out of their own home.
Within that, what I’ve observed is that, the more that you keep somebody occupied in a normal life the slower decline occurs, the better their experience is for whatever those periods of time.
It seems like your model is very, very keyed into that concept, that there is sort of this community based stuff that’s going on. That it’s a different model than some of the other CCRCs and things like that. Sounds like they might have been deliberate. How do you work in the programing element of what you’re doing to match some of those goals?
Kelly: Actually, we believe in successful aging philosophy. The term that we use is actually “salas.” “Salas” is the Latin term for well‑being.
Our programing and our lifestyle basically at Homestead is the successful aging lifestyle to provide opportunities for the residents to continue to do what they have loved to do for many years, as well as give them the opportunities to experience new things. Almost…
Victor: Should you do surveys ahead of time to know what they’re interested in? How difficult is it to meet everyone’s needs because everyone comes into the unique?
Andy: We’re not on the air yet.
Victor: What’s that?
Andy: We’re not on the air yet.
Victor: Of course you’re on right now.
Kelly: [laughs] Of course we’re on the air. Actually, we’re partnered with an organization called Masterpiece Living. Basically, they believe in the same philosophy of successful aging.
Through Masterpiece Living we are able to provide what they call lifestyle reviews for people who are interested in moving into the Homestead community, as well as people who are already there. That lifestyle review basically looks at four different areas of your lifestyle; physical, spiritual, social and intellectual.
It gives the residents an opportunity to basically just look at their life and where they are. That is a measurement tool, so to speak, for them to see where they are, and then set their goals to see where they would like to maybe make some changes.
Victor: Do you find that people are willing to continue to stretch and grow in terms of those goals? Is that a challenge to get them to see themselves as capable of doing more or do they readily accept something like that?
Kelly: Actually, with my experience at Homestead, everyone has been fully engaged in this whole philosophy. They are very eager to better themselves in the areas that they may not see themselves as being so great at.
For example, when it comes to the physical aspect, we obviously offer many different types of exercise classes at Homestead, whether it’s an actual class or whether they can use our fitness gym.
Some of our residents that have taken the lifestyle reviews have looked at the reviews and the results and seen that maybe they could exercise a little bit more frequently or with a little bit more intensity. They’ve set those goals for themselves. We basically just provide the opportunities for them to fulfill those goals.
For me as the program director, it really hasn’t been difficult because I don’t really need to…
Victor: You don’t have to pull them along.
Kelly: I don’t have to pull them along.
Victor: They’re not donkeys with…
Kelly: Exactly, and I’m not there to drag anybody out. They’re willing to do it.
Victor: It reminds me there’s a guy named Shawn Achor who has made a name as a happiness researcher. The guy went to Harvard and other things like that. He applies the scientific method to exploring happiness as a measurable thing.
We always go out and we measure depression and we measure the other things. How do we measure happiness? His definition of happiness is joy in making progress towards your potential. To that point of these people, if you’re able to provide an environment where they’re making that progress, then you’re going to have ‑‑ not just happy residents at Homestead in Hamilton, but just happy people.
They might be latching onto that as something that they’re doing from the point that they’re even interested in coming along.
Andy: It’s interesting, Victor. As I grow older, and I’m a 55‑year‑old gentleman, I’m always thinking to myself, “At what point am I going to give up my dreams to hired help at an assisted living community?” The closer I get to retirement age and assisted living age, the answer is never.
I never want to give up what my dreams are, what my goals are, what my interests are, what my spiritual, physical, intellectual, social needs are. I want folks who are managing the community where I live to respect my individual rights. My individual interest, I’m sorry.
I’ve been in the business for about 25 years and we’ve been very guilty of creating calendars and creating programs what we think our folks want to do.
Victor: It might be easy for us to provide for them, right?
Andy: Victor, I wasn’t going to go dark on that one, but you’re absolutely right. The industry is a lot about what’s convenient for the staffing levels that we have, and how can we fit the most folks into one single box in terms of interests and whatnot?
Unfortunately, a lot of communities are quite proud of their effort and they think that’s a home run. When we were in the sales office a year and a half ago, many family members and residents wanting to know what we’re going to be doing on a day‑to‑day basis.
Our philosophy is I don’t know yet because I don’t know who lives there. [laughs] If you want a calendar I could make you up one in five minutes. However, if you want me to get to know your mother, to know what her interests are, then I will create a program around her.
What we found in terms of the residents really buying into this, if I created a calendar, I would have two people interested in a particular activity and I’d have 98 who wouldn’t be. Yet if I have someone who’s interested in horticulture, I’m going to have one or two people that are very interested.
I’m going to have that happen so they can experience that joy and there’s going to be 10, 15 onlookers who have never done that before. We call it organically‑grown calendars. It’s not just…
Victor: How far out do they go out? I don’t mean the sense of tract. I’m just trying to figure out, are you making course adjustments along the way as people express whatever they’re interested in? It’s not just the same thing over and over again, but you’re actually trying to also grow in what you’re doing.
Andy: We started with a population of probably 40 in the first 30 days of our existence.
Victor: That’s huge.
Andy: It’s huge. Right away there is at least one, possibly two poker clubs created by the residents. One we knew of, the other was…
Victor: …is underground…
Kelly: The underground poker club.
Andy: This is their home. Absolutely, what I might do in my basement, they may do in our card room, so yes. The surprising thing for me, maybe not surprising because of who Andy is, but industry wide, folks want to continue to learn.
You mentioned the happiness thing. Absolutely. Their dreams don’t stop at a time when someone comes to live into Homestead. Back at the sales center, I had a resident come in, a perspective resident who did move in.
She looked at me and said, “I knew someday this day would come that I’d have to go to a community like this.” I actually got chocked up because I knew what she was about to get into. I knew it wasn’t what she was thinking it was.
Victor: Her idea of what she said she had to do wasn’t going to match what Homestead was doing.
Andy: She wants to know.
Victor: You’re going to have to be a delightful surprise to this idea that in her mind there was resignation. It was loss. It was backwards in some fashion, and that’s not what you were going to be offering.
Andy: Really it’s gain, it really is. We’re fighting the stereotype of what long‑term care is, and frankly, what some assisted living services are.
Victor: We can trade into the conversation, but give me the sketch description of what Homestead at Hamilton is, where it’s located, the number of homes, I call them homes, because they really are these separate living areas. Just tell me a little bit or more on the details on what Homestead is.
Andy: Sure. We’re in Hamilton Township, at the corner of Klockner and Kuser, 2560 Kuser Road. It’s a large complex made up of independent living, assisted living, and memory care. Independent apartments, number 96. We have 99 assisted living apartments, of those, 75 are more traditional assisted living, and 24 is memory care.
Victor: It stops there. We don’t have anything at a skilled nursing level. Basically, those two levels.
Andy: That’s correct. In fact, I’m a licensed nursing home administrator. I started my career as a nursing home guy.
Once I found the wonderfulness, that is assisted living, I found that if you do assisted living right, if you give proper care prior to falls, prior to significant disease process kicking in, rarely do my assisted living folks or even memory care folks end up in a nursing home.
A lot of folks think it’s just a living community, it’s just another step before nursing home. The sad part is many families will choose to go to a nursing home over assisted living, give up the freedoms and the nice wonderful things we have, just because mom will eventually end up in a nursing home. I’ve found that not to be true.
Victor: That nursing home, properly referred to as a skilled nursing care, by definition, is 24/7. Many times, as somebody gets older, they need something…I wouldn’t say something more, but if they’re being cared in a way that meets their needs, what you might call assisted living, but pre‑skilled nursing, they don’t need 24/7 skilled nursing.
For me, that’s what the nursing home levels look like. It’s more of a hospital setting because you’ve got nurses running around. You’ve got two beds in there, they’re hospital beds often, in that sense.
People don’t necessarily need that but they, unless it’s being done correctly, may not be served at a lower level, which is why they might put themselves in at that higher level.
You’re saying that the better job that we’re able to do in treating their needs in assisted living, the less that we’ll have to rely on skilled nursing going forward.
Andy: Yes, and that was a very pleasant surprise to me, at learning that during my vocation. At one point, I managed a 68‑bed memory care community. That is my passion. Folks think that memory care would be difficult, a lot of agitated residents, a lot of incidences that occur, and a lot of our memory care folks would end up in a nursing home.
I found the opposite true. In five years of service at that particular community, I had one employee incident with a resident. We were able to program properly to get folks off of psychotropic medications through proper diet, through proper sleep patterns.
When you sleep at night, you’re awake throughout the day. When you have programs that are age appropriate and condition appropriate during the day, then all of life seems to fall into place. I’m not against medication when needed, however, to mask a behavior because your program is falling short is disgraceful.
Victor: When somebody is living at Homestead, is there a progression for them automatically to go from independent to assisted? You talked about two different sets of rooms that are available. I don’t say it’s a guarantee but can they progress? Does their space depend…How do you approach somebody that needs increasing care?
Andy: Yes to most of what you just said. We are not a CCRC, a Continuing Care Retirement Community, where there is a large $200,000, $300,000 buy‑in and then you’re guaranteed care throughout the rest of your life. This is a community that has three distinct levels of care, actually two levels of care, independent and assisted level.
Victor: This has got that little memory care that’s why we’re saying three because that’s another…just a sub‑set of services that are specialized for cognitive decline residents, right?
Andy: Perfect, but it is space available if someone in the independent living needs to live in the assisted living. Surely, during our wrap up, which we are almost halfway through, there’s plenty of space available.
I’ve also been fortunate in my career that anyone who’s committed tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of dollars to the community that I run, there’s always been a way to make things work.
There’s always been a way to avoid what many do on a regular basis, and that is how the Medicaid discharge, because we simply don’t have any Medicaid meds left. I’ve not done that once in my career but…
Victor: When it comes to somebody who has increasing care, we’ve always talked about both on the show and in my practice, that could take all kinds of forms.
It doesn’t have to be just at the facility‑based. Somebody could bring in home health care, a situation’s very similar to what they would be doing at home. Is that also a possibility at Homestead? They could bring somebody in to assist with them if the space is large enough for a day‑to‑day kind of thing?
Andy: Correct. What’s unique about Homestead is this, we don’t have two distinct neighborhoods. It’s not just assisted living and independent living. However, yes, there are regulations within assisted living and frankly lived‑in regulation in independent living.
What I wanted to do is not have our assisted living a traditional assisted living where folks that have medical maladies live and get care. I happen to believe…
Victor: Almost segregated away from the rest of the community.
Andy: That’s correct.
Victor: I would imagine that, probably in the direction that you’re going, is that when you do that, you actually see decline in the population, when you start to institutionalize them and label them and move them, and they are in a totally different building.
Andy: It’s not flat line if you reverse that. You actually keep folks at a higher level of living. We have a concept called live long, die short. Our motto…
Victor: [laughs] Which is what everybody wants. I want to die peacefully in my bed or in my sleep overnight.
Andy: My brainchild, if there’s any smarts I’ve brought to the table over the last couple of years. I brought in Kelly, who’s an outsider to the healthcare world. I wanted her to oversee the independent and the assisted living programing.
I wanted it to look similar. Actually, we used the same calendars that are organically developed, and both are independent and assisted living. Our assisted living folks go to our so‑called independent living programs and vice versa.
It’s just a different location in the building, because who are we to say that you’re a lesser person or that you need specialized baby care just because you’re an alert and oriented and independent living person who happens to have a hip issue, where you need a little bit of help.
We have no, not even a dotted line, between our two communities. It’s a great selling point. Again, more realistically, that’s usually how I wake up in the morning, wanting to make sure that I live the more life.
That’s an easy thing to sell as well, because you are not selling an assisted living community. You are saying this is all the mom has. You don’t just have this apartment, you have the pub, you have the movie theater, you have libraries…
Victor: I like the idea of a pub and a poker game. Hold on a second. How young do you take somebody at Homestead…?
Andy: I will live the brochure behind.
Victor: Kelly you get to experience people making the transition in. Are there common things they have to overcome when they are making the transition maybe from home or in a shared living situation with family into an independent living or assisted living that you have observed? How do you make that transition be successful for someone?
Kelly: Yes, obviously, this is a major life change whether they are coming from another state, now they’re moving back closer to family, or, like you said, they’re maybe living with family members and now they’re moving to a place of their own.
There’s many life changes. What I think is special about Homestead is we are one big large community. A lot of times the other residents and their new neighbors help in that transition. I have seen a lot of that…
Victor: OK, just in terms of welcoming people and this is part of what the community which is signed on for.
Kelly: Exactly. We have resident ambassadors who assist in that as well. Everything is just not on myself, as the program director, or Andy or even anyone in the marketing department. We have residents that welcome our new neighbors to Homestead.
Andy: It is both formal and informal.
Kelly: Yeah, exactly.
Victor: Do you have a welcome basket with the welcome wagon with all the brochures that come in?
Victor: This is were the poker game is. This is where the pub is…
Kelly: Well, of course, yes. I will say that…
Andy: I will spot him for 20 bucks.
Kelly: I will say that our happy hours that meet a few times a week are helpful in our welcoming process. It is a life change and it is a transition but I have found that most of the time it’s the current residents at Homestead that help in that transition.
They actually encourage new residents to be vocal to me, to tell me what they would like to see at Homestead. As Andy said before, that’s where everything comes from. It’s organically coming from the residents.
Victor: What have you observed about the family members? Many times when people are coming in, to the principles themselves, the residents if they’re, as you where saying, alert and oriented, they are really just independent and I am tired of mowing the lawn. Let me find some place that will actually be entertaining for me.
Clearly, they are going to be very direct in what is going on, but many times you’ve got people who are either facing a struggle or trying to meet a need and this helps to serve that and the family is not concerned, but they want to know that they are OK.
What do families observe about after the transition has happened or how people are situating? Do they find that this has been a bounce upwards in their loved ones life? How are they talking about it?
Kelly: Actually, absolutely. The family members I see regularly, who may be local, have definitely let me know they have seen a change, a positive change in their family member that has moved in, whether it’s socially or they’re attending more intellectual activities, going on trips they might not have gone on prior to moving into Homestead.
I definitely see a lot of positive feedback from the family members…
Victor: They have to be delighted to see that happen in their loved ones life like eyes brighten and they are actually involved in doing stuff, because many times we find that, I do not want to say wasting away, but when they are situated out, what they where doing in raising their family, and they’re without the connection back into the community, they are withering out there.
Andy: It is interesting they are taking control of their lives back. As the administrator, as the executive director sometimes I count the number of wraps on my door from a disgruntled family member and it is almost negligible at Homestead. The residents take care of themselves. The residents talk to their loved ones and say I am fine.
There is no need to do this. I am handling this. We have open door policy all over the place and any concern our residents have, we jump on it right away. It’s handled in an adult professional way, because of the way we set up shop, because of the way we empower the residents, because everything is organically created. We all own where we live.
Victor: Remind me again what kind of census levels are you all at for the space? I know that there are about 90 or just over a 100 in each of the areas. How many people are actually moved in at this point in time? I know you just opened recently. This is not a facility that’s been, or a housing community, that’s been around for years and years. You are still in that open space.
Andy: We opened up our independent living community just before Christmas. Our assisted living opened up at the end of April. We have 195 total apartments and we have 104 people living in our community.
Victor: That is fantastic. It is just over 50 percent of the occupancy rate in less than a year. A full well less than a year on the assisted side.
Andy: If the assisted living would have opened up a few months ago, we would have been be a full capacity.
Victor: This sounds like a model for the future. Tell me there is a Homestead at Holmdel, and a Homestead at Hillsborough coming. This seems to me fairly unique. Is that what you have observed as well? I’ve been around for 10‑15 years and I haven’t seen anything like this before in the past.
Andy: I will tell you Victor, it’s a shame that there are not more communities like this. In my experience, in all do respect to my colleagues in communities out there, for every 10 communities there are two or three that get it.
Maybe five that sort of get it and some that really need to change their product. This is the only community like this, owned by our company. The only similar communities, one down in Marlton, not associated with us. That is…
Victor: More like a continuum where everyone’s in a community together just approaching it from the perspective of these are two separate kinds of lives and these are two separate kinds of residents and meeting the activities to their specific needs.
Andy: Because I’ve been around a little bit and I know what’s out there, I do feel we are special. I do feel like we are one of the only boats out on the ocean. I am really proud of that.
As the administrator, as the executive director it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. That is start with a fresh community. My experience has been going into difficult settings and changing the environment, or changing personnel if need be and…
Victor: This was a fresh slate for you to…
Andy: It was a fresh slate.
Victor: …to do it right from the first right.
Andy: Amen. Through all of my experiences one of the great things I’ve learned is how I don’t want to do things. Again, programing events was one of the key areas that I see has been a disrespectful delivery to the older population in my career. Perhaps I have been a part of that as well in my early days.
This was a chance for my entire team. It’s a new community, but my entire team is not new to the industry other than Kelly and that was on purpose. We know what to do. Just as important we know what we can reject and not do. It’s been successful, very exhilarating for my staff, very exhilarating for me personally.
Victor: Kelly you are program director now and you got a new challenge coming in and managing the outside communities. I am going to put you on the spot. If people wanted to find out more information about Homestead in Hamilton, lead them in the right direction. What are they going to do to explore this?
Kelly: They can absolutely visit our community at any time as Andy said. We are located at 2560 Kuser Road in Hamilton. For those people that are Hamiltonians like myself, born and raised in Hamilton, we watch the building go up.
There have been a lot of people in the community that have stopped by just because they are curious and they wanted to see what it’s all about. They have met with me. Once they’ve seen the building and had a change to chat with myself or Andy they have learned that it is not just a nice beautiful building but it is something special on the inside…
Victor: It’s got the new building smell.
Kelly: Of course, it’s got the new building smell. When they walk in, they might notice that at first, but when they walk out they have the feeling of why Homestead is truly special. It’s what’s happening on the inside. Obviously, more than welcome to stop by for a visit. You can also visit our website www.homesteadathamilton.com.
Victor: Do you have any upcoming events to showcase?
Kelly: Yes, we do have a few events coming up. We have a Flavors of Fall event coming up on Saturday, October 20th. It’s from 11:00 to 1:00 PM. It’s an opportunity for people in the community to stop by. We have a chef there that will be offering some flavors of fall entrees, seasonal dips, anything fall.
Kelly: It’s an event that’s going to kick off out partnership with local farms because our dinning services will be providing farm to table fresh entrees in our building.
Victor: Great. This will actually be based on our broadcast date. We are recording this ahead of time, today’s date. If you are interested in doing that, you can go investigate that later today at Homestead Hamilton.
Kelly: We also have another event coming up on November 1st. Earlier Andy spoke about Masterpiece Living and the successful aging philosophy and we are honored to have Dr. Landry, who is the founder of Masterpiece Living. He will be at our community to do a presentation on successful aging and all of the research that he has done on living long and dying short.
As you said earlier, “That’s how we all would like to live. It doesn’t matter if you’re 22 or 42 or 102. We should all really want to live that successful aging life style.” He will be at our community. We are very honored and excited to have him on November 1st.
Victor: Excellent. I want to thank you both for being our guests here today. I’m really excited to hear everything that’s going on with Homestead in Hamilton. Like I said, it is a very unique situation.
I think that people should definitely explore at whatever stage they are at because it could be an option for them now. It could be an option for someone in the future, but if they’re interesting in having that continuum community, I think this is as good an option as I’ve heard of. Thanks so much for being here.
Andy: Thank you for having us.
Victor: Well, I hope you enjoyed that interview. It was one of my favorite things to do because I really enjoy listening to all the new stuff and the crazy ways that Homestead Hamilton is bringing in all of the sense of community.
I think that if you are investigating how to transition out of your home or maybe if you got a loved one and trying to think how are they going to be cared for, this is a great option to explore to see if it’s for you. Go and contact them.
As they were talking about, they actually have an event, today, this Saturday, broadcast day. There are flavors of the fall. You can go do that later this afternoon or look at their event on November 1st.
If you enjoyed this show, do me a favor, share it with a friend. You can do that either by going at makeitlastradio.com or going to one of your favorite podcast providers, looking at either Apple iTunes or Android, so on and so forth hitting the share button and rating us highly on Apple iTunes so other people can find the show as well.
We will be back next week. We’ve got a rush of great guests coming up. Look forward to sharing more of that information with you next week on Make it Last where we help you keep you legal ducks in a row and your financial nest egg secure. Catch you next time. Bye‑bye.