Key West needs more and better care facilities for its senior citizens. This blog will discuss ways to do so. The grandiose give-away promoted by the "Florida Keys Assisted Care Coalition" is not the best way. We can do much better.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Solares Hill "Editorial" (June 29, 2007)

Proposal Is For Upscale Complex, Not Assisted Care
by David Lybrand

We need an assisted living facility in Key West. The Bayshore Manor facility is very limited at 16 units. Consequently, many of our elderly must look elsewhere (e.g., to the mainland) if no one locally is able to assist them through their twilight years. Virtually nobody in Key West would disagree with this need. It's a given.

What's not a given is that the so-called "assisted living" facility being planned for the Truman Waterfront is the best way to meet this need. Yes, it'll provide more assisted units, but at what cost?

Is it really the only way to accomplish this?

The biggest problem with the plans being pushed so stridently by the "Florida Keys Assisted Care Coalition" (FKACC) is that most of their project is not for assisted care! More than 70 percent of the units they propose are for "independent living" -- people who can live just fine almost anywhere with some extra help from time to time. Only 15 percent of all the units in this project will be affordable assisted living units.

The FKACC has subverted the assisted living facility vision of the original Truman Waterfront plan into one that's mostly a glorified retirement community.

The project is usually referred to as an "Assisted and Independent Living facility." That oversimplifies and clouds the issue. A more apt description would be: "expensive retirement community with a small set of affordable assisted living units."

The assisted living component of the project is basically two small buildings sitting on less than an acre of the property the FKACC insists that they require. The other approximately five acres is a community of almost 100 very nice and very expensive units that are not really much different (other than their most excellent waterfront location) than other nice condo complexes on the island. "Independent Living" could be accomplished almost anywhere -- why does it have to be on prime free land given away by the city?

Such retirement communities exist all over our state, but you'd be very hard pressed to find one where the city granted free land to built it on. Much less prime waterfront land like the Truman Waterfront. Land that was meant to be enjoyed by all of our residents, not just the ones who can afford to buy one of these expensive units.

The FKACC team continues to couch their sales pitch in terms like "we must care for our elderly" and "people are forced to move away from the island we love." They imply that questioning their plan is akin to senior abuse. They insist that we can't afford the assisted living units if we don't subsidize them with the expensive retirement housing. I'm not convinced, and I think that those who take the time to bypass the hype and look at the actual plan will see this, too.

Our mayor claims to have looked at the plan up and down and is convinced that it's "fair." However he had also recently been convinced that we need to grant more transient licenses in Old Town, despite it violating city planning agreements. (Thankfully a judge has overruled this.) I'm reluctant to take his word on this matter.

Commissioner Menendez has visions of how seniors of all means will be able to "gaze out at the ocean" as they draw their dying breaths. The facility being planned is far from that vision. With all the free acreage (close to 20 percent of the entire Truman Waterfront) being thrown at it, they can only find room for four more units than Bayshore Manor provides for seniors of "lesser means" who need assisted living? And of course if they get sick enough to need continuous medical care, they'll be kicked out anyway. (Is this what you're looking for, Jose?)

I believe the FKACC to be good people attempting to do good work for a good cause. But I also feel that they have locked themselves into a single plan without looking at enough alternatives. We need to discuss more proposals than this one. The original LRA resolution called for a request for proposal ("RFP") process to be used. Where are the other proposals? Why are we being forced to vote on one proposal without ever seeing other possibilities?

I believe that we can do much better than this. We should be able to provide a lot more than 20 reasonable cost assisted units without such a massive giveaway of our scarce waterfront land. We should not be voting on this until we see some alternatives. If the commission doesn't want the whole project shot down by the voters this fall, they should come up with something that really is as fair as the mayor claims. Something with more reasonable priced assisted living units, and with less of our valuable land given away for expensive retirement homes.

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