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Coral Gables@Home: first of its kind in FL, but is this the right model?

The aging in place wave has hit the upscale community of Coral Gables in Miami. It's a well intentioned but inadequate concept despite its promise.  Coral Gables@Home is being launched as a non-profit which will cost members an introductory $500 annual fee for the first 100 enrolled. Beginning in February, it aims to provide a range of 'concierge' services to help seniors by providing them with one number to call for a range of services. These categories include 'wellness', transportation, meals and groceries, and member rates for social and cultural events. In fact, much of the service offered falls into the category of member discounts -- which is a good thing -- not unlike Welcome Wagon, actually. The idea is modeled after Beacon Hill Village in Boston. In 2005, Beacon Hill Village (a very upscale corner of Boston, not unlike the demographics of Coral Gables) had 300 members. Today it has between 400 and 500 members depending on which article you read. And their are plenty of articles -- here's another written by founder Judy Willett -- who I spoke to about this 3 years ago.  It has been around for 6 years in a community with 2000 residents that fit into the age category of 65+.  Coral Gables has 6670 in that age bracket. Median income in both communities is the same -- which is why I am sure that Coral Gables@Home is designed to replicate Beacon Hill Village. But should it?

After 6 years, Beacon Hill Village is still basically its originally described concierge service that offers member discounts and a single number to call for services that could otherwise be contracted for by adult children of seniors or by seniors themselves. In fact, one of the main offerings of Beacon Hill Village on its website is providing guidance to other communities on how to start one in your community. Viewed in that context, it is quite a success.

But I'm not so sure that's such a good idea as currently configured. Why? Other than referring members to a computer geek, there is no mention of any form of home tech that could link an elderly person to the outside world. This is not an effective model - even for the well-to-do, the target market of both Beacon Hill Village and Coral Gables@Home.  In fact, Beacon Hill Village has gone so far as describing the service as a possible Christmas gift for mom or dad.  Maybe not.

I think there are better ways to spend $500 on your elderly parents to make you and them feel safer. For example, within the $1 million potential intake of Coral Gables@Home (assuming it reaches the Beacon Hill Village participation level), what about a video phone, e-mail appliance or improvements to PC-based access, home monitoring, smarter telephones, PERS devices, or automated medication reminder services -- so that the now more comfortable adult child can not only feel better that his mother has one number to call for services that he could have navigated himself, but perhaps actually improve his communication with and about his mother? And why not establish an online or telephone connection among the participating seniors? Address their needs, empower with communication technology, and enhance the quality of their lives. In addition to the concierge services.

I do think that NORCs, Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities, make a lot of sense. Connect people who want to stay in their homes to services they need -- keeping them out of ALFs or nursing homes. But let's really connect them, to their families and to other seniors, not just by consolidating services into a single phone number.  Well-intentioned geriatric care managers, home care agencies, and non-profits all need to think more and do more than the Beacon Hill Village or Coral Gables@Home charter. And thinking about technology won't cost them a penny.