New findings about assisted living for Alaska seniors

One fine day in early November I grabbed Jim McCall, who manages the Senior Office of the Alaska Housing and Finance Corporation (AHFC), for a friendly Zoom chat. His subject: The just-released Anchorage Assisted Living Survey. The following includes Jim’s “big picture” responses to a few of the more important issues, with significance for all of Alaska in addition to Anchorage. Questions and responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Weiss: Jim, you work in the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC). What is that?

McCall: AHFC is a quasi-public corporation. We have offices in a variety of locations throughout the state, primarily for public housing. The focus is on providing safe, secure and affordable housing for Alaskans, which is our mission. In addition to what I do with a senior focus, we have a mortgage division that does a lot of mortgage programs – from first time homebuyer to energy add-ons to interest rate reduction programs – we have a multifamily program, and on and on. There’s just a lot of things that go under that umbrella.

Weiss: I understand that these surveys went out to Anchorage assisted living facilities that serve seniors among their clients. How many facilities were included in the survey?

McCall: That totaled 131 different providers around Anchorage. So that’s roughly how many people were sent the survey. Of those, 17% responded to this survey.

Weiss: Why do you periodically conduct this survey?

McCall: in addition to keeping the commission [Alaska Commission on Aging] up to date on this topic, which is one of the huge benefits of this survey, many of those things dovetail into other things, the state plan for example. We know that assisted living care is important here, we know that our population is swelling, and Alaska has for many years led the nation in senior growth. So this is one facet of care for seniors in addition to long term care or skilled nursing, for example.

The other reason, of course, is we have a loan program that helps develop this type of housing, so periodically I like to be able to go out and check with these folks. New folks may come to us for an assisted living loan. To put that in perspective, we have about 116 assisted-living loans in our portfolio worth somewhere just a little bit north of $36 million.

Weiss: The waitlist to get into assisted living is a matter of perennial concern. What are the most recent findings?

McCall: About three quarters of the homes that responded indicated that they had a waitlist of six months or less. I think that’s important because there were times when we knew the waitlist was probably more than six months. When somebody calls my office or calls wherever they call, and they’ve got a loved one who needs care, they don’t need it in six months, or a year or two years. They need it today. Hearing that the wait time has gone down to six months or less is a very positive revelation from this survey.

Weiss: What about people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia? Are they able to find the care they need in assisted living environments?

McCall: Another thing that I think is very positive about the findings of this survey is about seniors who have some type of impairment through Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia. That is a growing number within the senior population. This survey reflected that about 77% of homes have the capacity or are currently caring for individuals with some form of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia. There are not enough skilled nursing beds, for example, in the state to be able to say that that’s our solution, so the skilled nursing beds are one part of the solution.

Many [assisted-living residents] are largely dependent on state programs for funding their care, whether that’s Medicaid, or whether that’s adult public assistance, or whether that’s general relief. Any of those state programs are critically important to the funding so that [residents] have a place to stay and receive care. The providers largely indicated that they were satisfied with how those programs are functioning.

Weiss: Finally, staffing seems to be an inescapable issue in many businesses in recent years. What did the survey indicate about staffing at assisted living facilities?

McCall: Staffing is a significant concern since COVID began. [Survey respondents] acknowledged that they’ve had to increase staff pay. The average increase was about 16%, from 2020 to 2022. So even though they’ve increased their pay by 16%, they know they have a challenge. And I think in this open-ended type of question, 80% of the [survey respondents] listed that as a problem.

Lawrence D. Weiss is a UAA Professor of Public Health, Emeritus, creator of the UAA Master of Public Health program, and author of several books and numerous articles.

Author Bio

Lawrence D. Weiss is a UAA Professor of Public Health, Emeritus, creator of the UAA Master of Public Health program, and author of several books and numerous articles.