Retirement Communities Offer Continuing Care

February 6, 2009

Many visitors to Costa Rica undoubtedly experience the temptation to stay among the lush jungles and pristine beaches and never leave.

Thanks to a growing number of continuing care facilities and retirement homes in the country, those looking to live out their golden years here can do exactly that.

With health care costs rising rapidly in the United States, Costa Rica’s cheaper but high-quality care offerings are spurring a boom in medical tourism. Combined with the unbeatable climate and warm, laid-back Tico lifestyle, more and more North Americans are looking to Costa Rica for longer-term care solutions as well.

“There’s nothing comparable. It’s not just cheaper, but standards are high, quality is high and the system is a lot less cumbersome than in the U.S.,” says Eric Fullmer, partner of Novita Capital, a firm developing the Verdeza retirement community near the western Central Valley town of Turrúcares (www.verdeza.com, 2296-1372).

But communities such as Verdeza don’t have only North Americans in mind. Many retirees come from Europe or other developed countries, as well as from within Costa Rica.

“There’s a big need among people already here,” Fullmer says. “There’s a population of Costa Ricans and North Americans already living in Costa Rica who are facing the challenges of aging.”

Those challenges can be both physical and mental, and many require constant care and attention as time passes.

“They’re called the golden years, and you don’t want to feel like a burden on your family, useless or lonely,” Fullmer says.

Set for completion in 2010, Verdeza is a 125-unit resort-style community that will include tennis courts, a theater and a colonial-style central town with shops. Medical care options offered range from fitness and wellness programs and regular health assessments and medication administration to 24-hour monitoring and nursing care and hospice and chronic illness therapy.

Part of the inspiration for the project was Fullmer’s experience caring for his father, who suffered a debilitating stroke.

“It’s just not something you’re prepared for,” he says.

Verdeza and similar facilities such as Pura Vida Life Care in Los Angeles de Heredia, north of the capital (www.puravidalifecare.com, 2222-4414), aim to attract retirees looking for an active lifestyle, before needing continuing care down the road.

“People come to retire here; then, if something like that happens, this facility, similar to others, will permit them to age in place,” Fullmer says.

Other facilities, such as Finca Futuro Verde (www.fincafuturoverde.com, 2494-5187), offer a more intimate retirement option. Located in Rincón de las Salas, a small hamlet two kilometers from the coffee town of Grecia, west of San José, this sixhectare facility offers six units and a garden with views of the surrounding valley and mountains, a reading area with books in several languages and a comfortable living room with TV and DVD player.

“We don’t have many rooms; we just want to be one big family,” says Diederik Maes of Belgium, who founded the finca in 2007 with his wife, Els Van de Wiele. “It’s very quiet. There’s no noise here.”

Maes, too, was inspired by personal experience, deciding to convert his hillside home into a residence for senior citizens after his father, Jan, needed assisted living care.

Finca Futuro Verde offers one visit with a doctor per month, as well as two weekly physical therapy and occupational therapy sessions each, included in the monthly cost of $1,800 for a smaller room and $2,100 for a larger room. Both are either single or double occupancy and include three meals a day, plus a late morning and afternoon snack, as well as laundry service and a private bathroom.

Daily rates are $65 and $75, depending on room size. Temporary day care is also available for $20. Additional health services, such as prescriptions, special hospital beds, oxygen and extra therapy sessions, are available for an extra fee.

Verdeza plans to offer a slightly different model. Residents pay a one-time, lifetime membership fee of $100,000 to $199,000 for a single-occupancy room and $174,000 to $224,000 for double occupancy, and then enter into one of three health plans, depending on need: Independent Living; Assisted Living; or Skilled Nursing, Rehabilitative Care and Memory Support. Monthly rates range from $575 to $2,100 per person, depending on room type and health plan.

Both Verdeza and Finca Futuro Verde stress the importance of interaction with local communities. Verdeza plans to offer residents the chance to volunteer in Turrúcares, while Finca Futuro Verde opens a small coffee shop on weekends where residents can entertain visitors and buy a drink or dessert.

“We want people to be able to reach out and be involved in the community,” Fullmer says.

Despite the global economic slowdown, Costa Rica’s retirement homes and continuing care facilities expect business to remain strong in coming years.

“There’s a very important aspect that separates us from the rest of real estate,” Martí Jiménez, a partner at Novita, says. “Second homes are a luxury, while this is a need.”

Maes agrees, citing the changing demographics of an aging population in the developed world.

“We are going to have more and more elderly in the future,” he says. “I think within 20 years there will be an explosion in retirement homes.”

 

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