North Hills retirement center planning 15-story tower, says more assisted living needed

The Cardinal in North Hills, a two-year-old retirement community in Raleigh, has partnered with the startup K4Connect to make it a more technology-connected community.
The Cardinal in North Hills, a two-year-old retirement community in Raleigh, has partnered with the startup K4Connect to make it a more technology-connected community.

Wake County has the second highest number of assisted living beds in the state — and a Raleigh retirement community is trying to add more.

The Cardinal at North Hills has asked the state if it can add 51 adult care beds. The community announced plans to build a new 15-story tower in March. If approved, the beds will be included in the expansion.

There are already more than 3,000 adult care beds in Wake County, according to state’s medical facility plan, and combined with Durham and Orange county, there are nearly 5,000 adult care beds.

But the need for the beds isn't slowing down.

Tom Ford, executive director of The Cardinal, said less than two years after opening, the community has reached 97 percent occupancy.

“People are living longer, which is good,” Ford said. “We all like that. When people live longer, they start to have medical or health issues. They’re also having more cognitive challenges. As we age, we want a high quality of life. That means we want the appropriate services to help us.”

In the next 20 years, people in North Carolina between 75 and 84 will be the fastest growing age group, according to the state’s population projections. Those 85 and older will be the second fastest growing population.

Baby boomers are, of course, to blame. Every day about 10,000 baby boomers — people born between 1946 to 1964 — turn 65, said Jim Johnson, director of education, aging and economic development initiatives at the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“Nationally, there are about 81 million of us,” Johnson said. “That’s going to happen every day for the next 20 years.”

Johnson said North Carolina — especially Wake, Orange, Durham and Johnston counties — are migration magnets for people who have retired.

“We have a diversity of amenities,” he said. “We have water. We have mountains. We have golf courses. We have world class healthcare.”

Johnson said the price of assisted living housing in North Carolina on average is less expensive than other retirement states, like Florida and New York.

The average annual cost of assisted living in New York is more than $49,635. In North Carolina, it’s $36,000. In Florida, it’s $36,540, according to the Genworth 2016 cost of care survey.

The Cardinal offers both independent and assisted living apartments. The cost of an independent living apartment at The Cardinal ranges from $4,700 to $7,250 a month, depending on the size, according to The Cardinal's website. Residents in assisted living apartments pay an additional monthly fee for care, on top of base rent. The price for care ranges from $1,600 to $3,800.

Lisa Gwyther, director of the Duke Alzheimer’s Family Support Program, said people are often turning to assisted living facilities, like The Cardinal, because nursing home beds are filled at 98 percent capacity.

She said the level of care provided at assisted living facilities is less extensive than care that may be provided in a nursing home.

“There are studies that show that people who live in assisted living now, nationally, are much more impaired than they were before,” Gwyther said. “Many of them could qualify for skilled nursing care, but it isn’t available or affordable.”

The Cardinal is currently approved for 55 adult care home beds and 15 nursing beds.

Ford said if the new beds are approved, the facility hopes to add about 160 residencies. The project is expected to cost $25.5 million and would be completed in January 2021.

At this time, no other medical facilities in the Triangle are seeking approval for adult care home beds, according to the Department of Health and Human Services certificate of needs.

Public comments concerning the project were accepted by the Department of Health and Human Services through the end of May. The department said it did not receive any comments regarding the project.

A public hearing for the project will be held on Tuesday, June 19 at 11 a.m. in the Edgerton Building on the Dorothea Dix Campus in Raleigh.

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer