When it comes to affordable care for low-income seniors, Detroit is leading the nation.
Not far from the Detroit River, across the street from the headquarters of the UAW-GM
Center for Human Resources, in a repurposed brick building formerly occupied by Parke-Davis,
a quiet revolution in senior care is taking place. The first affordable continuing-care
retirement community of its type in the nation, Rivertown Neighborhood now offers
both assisted living and health care services to more than 190 Detroiters aged 55
and up, and in the next two years will offer independent-living to at least 50 more.
A skilled-nursing facility with space for 24 older adults is in the planning stages.
John Thorhauer, president and CEO of United Methodist Retirement Communities, which
operates Rivertown Assisted Living, says the development is fast becoming a model
for the country at large. “Nationally there’s a lot of discussion about the future
of providing services to seniors in affordable housing,” he says. “A lot of models
are being attempted, but none are as extensive as this, with multiple levels of services
and more stable funding sources.”
When all phases of construction and program implementation are complete, Rivertown
Neighborhood will serve 700 seniors. It’s a far cry from the roughly 125,000 Detroiters
Thorhauer estimates may be eligible for Rivertown’s housing or services, but a crucial
first step. “Our goal is to take people who’d otherwise be in a nursing program and
keep them at home as long as possible.”
SPH Associate Professor Jane Banaszak-Holl, who serves on the board of United Methodist
Retirement Communities, notes that according to recent statistics, elderly Detroiters
die five years younger than people elsewhere in Michigan—in part because the city
offers so little access to affordable care in quality settings.
“It’s really a tragedy there haven’t been more options for people in Detroit,” Banaszak-Holl
says, adding that this is true of low-income communities throughout the U.S. “Hopefully
this model of affordable assisted living will increase in prevalence.”
An affordable independent-living facility for low-income seniors, subsidized by the
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is currently under construction
next door to Rivertown Assisted Living. The new facility, which will feature 50 one-bedroom
apartments as well as a rooftop greenhouse and walking paths, is expected to open
in late 2014.
Rivertown is in the final stages of planning a two-story, 24-bed nursing unit adjacent
to its assisted-living facility. The new unit, which will follow a more residential,
“Green House–style” model, will provide skilled nursing care and rehabilitation.
Rivertown’s four-story, 80-unit assisted-living facility provides one-bedroom and
efficiency apartments for up to 100 Detroiters ages 55 and older who meet certain
criteria. Residents pay no more than $605 a month for meals, care, and housing, and
some pay as little as $102.
Located across the street from the UAW-GM Center for Human Resources, Rivertown is
funded by a combination of sources, including United Methodist Retirement Communities
and Presbyterian Villages of Michigan, as well as other foundations and community
and governmental agencies and organizations. A total of 17 sources provided $17.7
million to fund Rivertown Assisted Living, the first phase of the overall project,
with philanthropy accounting for $3.1 million of the total cost.
The UAW-GM Center for Human Resources leases an enclosed green space to Rivertown
so that residents can have an inviting place to walk. Future plans include walking
paths, benches, and a sculpture garden.
Rivertown Neighborhood is the first retirement community in the nation to bring together
this range of different services designed for low-income seniors. Ultimately, Rivertown’s
four facilities—independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing, and a day center
with clinical services—will provide care to 700 Detroiters.
When one new resident first saw the library on the fourth floor of Rivertown’s assisted-living
facility, she asked, “Who gets to read these books?” “They’re for you,” she was told.
Before moving to Rivertown, many residents in assisted living were sleeping on relatives’
couches—or worse. One resident told a staff member her favorite “room” at Rivertown
is the hallway where the mailboxes are located—“because I didn’t have an address before.”
Detroit’s only affordable assisted-living facility—and one of just two in the state
of Michigan—Rivertown Assisted Living provides residents with two meals a day as well
as basic utilities and access to round-the-clock care. Many apartments offer river
The assisted-living facility at Rivertown also includes a pharmacy, social room, two
bathing suites, and a beauty salon/barber shop, where one resident gets his hair cut
every week before church.
The ground floor of Rivertown’s main facility includes a facility run by the Center
for Senior Independence (CSI). CSI is a Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly,
or PACE, whose chief goal is to allow senior citizens in nearby communities to continue
living independently in their homes. CSI provides up to 300 low-income Detroiters
with daily meals, snacks, activities, personal care, and a range of health services,
including dental care, mental health care, recreational and physical therapy, and
routine checkups as well as urgent care.
The Center for Senior Independence is one of 83 PACE facilities nationwide (Michigan
has six, including two in Detroit). PACE facilities are jointly funded by Medicare
and Medicaid. The PACE model is especially attractive to Medicaid, because of the
significant cost savings that come from coordinating care across the entire health
continuum. Key partners in CSI are Presbyterian Villages of Michigan and the Henry
Ford Health System.