Standing inside the large house being renovated in East Longmeadow, Shad Hanrahan said he’s not surprised that a company specializing in child and elder care has undertaken significant expansion even during a recession.
“We’ve noticed a trend — there are two parents working, maybe, because of the recession, and with two parents working, they need a place to put their kids during the day,” said Hanrahan, director of Arbors Kids, which recently opened its third early-education center in that building on Shaker Road.
“We’ve seen our waiting lists grow,” he continued, “and in doing the market research, we feel that there’s a need for more quality child care. There are many families who want their children in centers, but there aren’t as many centers as there should be.”
The expansion of Arbors Kids from its original site in Chicopee into Springfield and East Longmeadow has also increased the visibility of the assisted-living centers that were this family-owned company’s original bread and butter.
Hanrahan’s mother-in-law, Carol Veratti, and her brother, Ernie Gralia III, launched the original Arbors assisted-living facility in Amherst about a decade ago, and soon added sites in Taunton, Chicopee, Westfield, and Greenfield, in addition to managing elder-care and child-care programs at Mason-Wright Retirement Home in Springfield. Two years ago, with the region and nation still gripped by recession, the Arbors added a sixth site, in Stoughton.
While few businesses could be called recession-proof, the graying of the Baby Boom generation — and a growing awareness of assisted living as an effective bridge between independent living and nursing homes — have created a fast-growing market for the kind of care the Arbors provides seniors.
“I just think that things are changing,” said Mary Phaneuf, the chain’s regional marketing director. “I think the level of care a nursing home provides is important, but it doesn’t meet the social needs of an elder who does not require medical attention or total nursing care. In assisted living, where we have our niche, we can provide services in a residential setting, as opposed to a medical setting.
“I’m in the Baby Boomer generation — I’m 60 — and my generation is the biggest proportion of the population,” she added. “I don’t need assisted living yet, but in another 15 or 20 years, I will, and the awareness is increasing.”
All in the Family
Veratti and Gralia made their transition from construction — they had built housing for the elderly, among other projects — into assisted living at an opportune time. Over the past decade, the average age in Massachusetts has steadily risen; meanwhile, not only are senior citizens living longer, they’re often active and relatively healthy. Those trends — which will only continue in the coming years — increased the need for assisted-living services.
The basic assisted-living model at the Arbors offers residents a measure of personal care per day — anything from bathing, dressing, and light housecleaning to help removing a hearing aid or an escort walking to the dining room. Each location also includes an Alzheimer’s unit called Reflections, which provides a higher level of care.
The goal of assisted living, Phaneuf said, is to afford residents the same enriching life they had when living in their own homes — and to make sure that people have their needs met outside the constant oversight (and clinical feel) of a nursing home.
“The cost is less, and the opportunity to remain as independent as possible in a residential setting is more desirable for people. As people become more and more knowledgeable about their options, they’re choosing us,” she told HCN.
“Sometimes they need a nursing home, and nursing homes will always be needed for someone who is medically compromised,” she added. “But for those who only need some support, this is a route that’s more affordable and offers a more home-like environment.”
What separates a quality assisted-living facility from nursing care, Phaneuf said, is its emphasis on quality of life, which includes a heavy dose of activities and outings for residents, who typically no longer drive.
“Assisted living has evolved,” she said, using a cell phone as an analogy. “At first, your cell phone just provided you with the ability to use your phone anywhere, away from a land line. It had that one purpose. But now look what it does — you can do much more than just make phone calls.
“We need to be about more than giving care; we need to realize we’re providing people with a better quality of life, opportunities to be part of the world, opportunities to enjoy themselves, to stay healthy and have exercise and good nutrition — all the things we take for granted. When they can’t drive anymore, it’s up to us to make those opportunities available.”
While the Arbors was born out of Veratti and Gralia’s connections in senior housing, Arbors Kids began with an excess of land. With 12 acres in reserve next to the Arbors on Memorial Drive in Chicopee, the siblings saw a chance for Hanrahan and his brother-in-law, Gary Veratti, to take advantage of their degrees in early-childhood education.
“We had all that property, and my mother-in-law suggested we look into a child-care center,” he said, adding that the Chicopee complex has allowed young and old to interact at times, especially for holiday events. “It’s been great for our intergenerational program. That really benefits the assisted-living program; I believe the residents enjoy it more than the children do, so that’s been a home run.”
At first, Arbors Kids boasted just a basic infant program, a preschool program, and a small summer camp, but it has since expanded in all ways, including multiple on- and off-site afterschool programs, a before-school program, and a much larger summer camp, which is attended by many kids long after they’ve left the year-round Arbors program for kindergarten.
The original idea was to build an educational program geared toward preparing children for the academic demands and structure of primary school, but also one built around fun, with a curriculum of creative arts, movement, and music in addition to the expected language skills, motor skills, and number and letter recognition.
“Our goal is to get kids ready for kindergarten,” Hanrahan said. “With the MCAS and other demands, school teachers don’t have time to get these children into knowing what the routines and expectations are — tying their shoes, learning all the skills we work on here. We’re getting kids ready for the social and emotional aspect of what kindergarten is about, and providing a high-quality, safe environment.”
That safety aspect is reflected in many ways, from coded entry into the building to a peanut-free environment to the cameras installed in each classroom, which parents can access from their computers at work. Those parents, Hanrahan said, form long-term relationships with the facility.
“Families stay with us,” he said. “They come back for camp, before- and afterschool programs, vacation camps, even snow days.”
He repeatedly credited the teachers, counselors, and support staff with much of the success of Arbors Kids.
“I think having a good business model in place and quality staff at the centers has really helped us to expand,” he told HCN. “Having a good support group has made it easier to transition to more aggressive growth.”
That ambitious expansion pattern has now extended for the better part of a decade and through a recession, positioning this business for further growth in the future.
“Being family-owned and operated plays a huge role” in that success, Hanrahan said, allowing the Arbors’ administrators to see child and elder care as part of the same continuum. “We take care of all ages.”