A Model for Elder Care Reeds Landing Eases the Transition into the Golden Years

Matt Leahey tells the story of a woman who arrived at Reeds Landing with only one wine glass.“Why would I need more than one?” was her attitude, said the director of the 11-year-old retirement community. To her, the single glass was sort of a symbol of a life that had, essentially, seen its best days.

Nowadays, her attitude is different. And she might have a few more glasses in her cabinets.

“She has become a very vibrant member of the community,” Leahey said. “She’s active in committees, in political groups — she’s very much alive.”

That’s the spirit Leahey wants to communicate when explaining the appeal of Reeds Landing, a large, independent- and assisted-living complex on Wilbraham Road in Springfield that has proven to be a model for newer facilities in the way it cares for residents at different stages of their golden years, transitioning them from independent living to assisted living to nursing care.

“The typical person who comes here is a vibrant, active person,” Leahey said. “A couple of them run businesses. Some have summer homes. A lot of them are Springfield natives — the president of the resident association is a former Springfield schoolteacher who graduated from Springfield college.

“They’re really a remarkable, interesting group of people with a lot of life experience, professionally and otherwise. And we’ve tried to create an ideal social setting for them.”

Reeds Landing’s success in that endeavor — and in facilitating residents’ transition into continuing care services — has helped the center not only to earn a strong reputation in a competitive marketplace, but to blaze an innovative trail.

Bringing an Idea to Life

Back in the 1980s, a local group with ties to Baystate Health envisioned a life care center in Springfield — one that would provide housing for independent seniors and long-term care services for others — and came across a plot of land they thought was ideal.

“At the time, Springfield College had a valuable piece of land, but it wasn’t being actively used. It had some recreational purposes, but it was essentially undeveloped,” Leahey said. As it turns out, the idea that would eventually become Reeds Landing was an attractive one to college officials.

“The college felt it could generate some income, but it would also be something of value to the community,” he continued. Construction began in 1993, and the center, which boasts 175 apartments and 42 skilled nursing beds, opened in June 1995.

The non-profit center is overseen by Western Mass. Lifecare Corp. the eventual moniker for the group that first investigated the feasibility of a center back in the 1980s. Leahey came on board in 1999.

“I love it here,” he said. “I’ve been in the long-term care field for a long time, and I can’t tell you what a valuable asset this is. If I could live in a place like this when that time comes, believe me, I would.”

The reason, he said, is the resort-type environment Reeds Landing fosters for its residents. “It’s a hospitality concept that has a very strong health care component attached to it.”

That hospitality is reflected in the food service, which features both a formal, sit-down dining hall and a casual bistro, both staffed by restaurant industry veterans. Other amenities include housekeeping, transportation, and a wellness program.

“We’re here to make people happy, and to compensate for any loss they may have had,” Leahey said, adding that “it’s also a self-contained community. In addition to the medical services we provide, we have a Banknorth branch on the premises, full postal service, a resident-run library, a resident-run store, and food service that provides a very high-end dining experience. It’s not institutional at all here.”

On the medical side, Reeds Landing has affiliations with physicians at Baystate Medical Center, and with Springfield College, which supplies interns from its rehabilitation and physical fitness programs to work with residents.

“A lot of people here are former faculty members or family members of people at the college, so there’s a strong connection. It really brings vitality to the community,” Leahey said.

He noted that physical fitness is increasingly an issue in communities like Reeds Landing. “We went out and bought state-of-the-art fitness equipment built on air pressure that adjusts from one to 500 pounds at the push of a button.” A trainer visits each day to assist residents on the machines, he added, and for those who would rather exercise outdoors, the center is circled by hiking trails.

“It’s a pretty place,” Leahey said. “I think people who have never been here are surprised at the physical environment when they first drive in.”

Making an Investment

What sets Reeds Landing apart from many elderly housing complexes, Leahey said, is its ‘safety net’ of services. Residents initially pay $150,000 and up for a unit — largely refundable — and a monthly fee in the $2,000 range, but that actually works as a sort of investment later in life, Leahey said.

Specifically, if an independent living resident eventually needs the type of daily living help provided by assisted living, he or she may switch to that arrangement at no increase in monthly fees. Down the road, that same resident may switch to full-time nursing home care if needed, again at no extra charge.

“That’s a real bargain, seeing that nursing home care can cost $9,000 a month,” Leahey told The Healthcare News, while assisted living often costs more than half that. “That’s an incredible savings — much like long-term care insurance.” And, he added, residents have the advantage of an established relationship with their caregivers.

“For most people, if you need a nursing home bed, you’re sent from the hospital, they get your chart, and that’s the first time they’ve met you. They don’t know you from Adam. Here, in many cases we’ve known you for years, and when you need nursing home care, you just transition right down the hall. It’s all under one roof on one campus, which is very unique with this type of community.”

Typically, however, new residents aren’t looking toward nursing care just yet. The average resident, Leahey said, is between 75 and 85 years old, in good health — and active.

“We have a lot of things going on here,” he said, noting an elected resident government and a series of committees aimed at improving life at Reeds Landing. “The chair of the health committee was a nurse, and the head of the landscaping committee keeps a huge garden. Whatever people have an interest or skill in, they tend to gravitate toward those committees. It’s a pleasure for them.”

If there’s one thing Leahey would like to change, it would be blending services to allow a little more freedom to residents in the nursing-care wing. But he can’t.
“An assisted-living facility in Mass-achusetts essentially can’t provide direct nursing services,” Leahey said, partly because of the fear that assisted-living centers could become, in effect, underregulated, cut-rate nursing homes.

However, Leahey is hopeful that the law will someday change, allowing for a blending of those services, so residents who need some nursing care can retain a semblance of independent living.

“Eventually, someone is going to ask, ‘why do we have to have nursing home units and assisted living units? Mrs. Jones is in assisted living, and there’s a nursing home down the hall. Why can’t the nursing home bring its services to Mrs. Jones? Why not leave her in assisted living while providing those services?’”

For now, Reeds Landing continues to provide those services separately, but with an eye toward making residents feel at home — and using more than one glass.