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Care Center Promises Residents Will Be Set for Life : Retirement: For 32 years Mt. San Antonio Gardens has offered unlimited medical benefits--for a price. Senior citizens gladly pay for peace of mind.

September 09, 1993|RENEE TAWA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

POMONA

— Dexter and Midge Barrett--he with a partially paralyzed leg, she with a reconstructed heart--fret more about their unruly rose garden and cranky model train set than about the prospect of a Medicare financial squeeze and the murkiness of impending health care reform.

The couple, in their 70s, have a deal at their nonprofit Claremont retirement community: a guarantee that all their basic needs--including 100% of their health care costs--will be taken care of until they die. At the upscale Mt. San Antonio Gardens, the Barretts and 425 other senior citizens have bought themselves the lifelong promise of surgery, medicine, physical therapy, round-the-clock care and a permanent bed in the community's long-term nursing home, if they ever need it.

"We'd probably be wondering who's going to take care of us, knowing how expensive it can be if you get a long, lingering terminal illness," said Dexter Barrett, 76, a retired TWA airline administrator. "But now that we're here, that worry is off our back."

Mt. San Antonio Gardens is one of two state-licensed places in Los Angeles County that deliver life care--a promise of lifelong health care in exchange for a hefty sum up front as well as a monthly rental and service fee. The other local life-care community is Scripps Home in Altadena.

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At the Gardens, 900 E. Harrison Ave., straddling the city boundary between Pomona and Claremont, healthy residents live in apartments, studios or cottages, while residents who require assistance or constant medical care live at the nursing home. Other medical care is provided through agreements with local health maintenance organizations.

Entry fees range from $32,000 to $150,000, based on the age of the resident and type of living unit. On top of that, there is a state-regulated monthly fee of $1,314, which covers rent, three meals daily in the Gardens' waiter-served dining room, housecleaning, linens, utilities, maintenance and other basic services on the 27.6-acre complex.

Statewide entry fees are as high as $200,000, with monthly fees averaging about $2,000, said Derrell Kelch, executive vice president of the California Assn. of Homes for the Aging. A portion of the entry fee is allowed as a one-time tax deduction, and one-third of the monthly fee is tax deductible every year.

As the nation waits for President Clinton to reveal his plans for health care reform, interest in life care appears to be growing. A recent spate of prospective tenants has arrived at the Gardens' door, said Ruth Davis, vice president of marketing, concerned about what health care reform might mean to them and whether life care could stave off those changes.

"I notice that people are very concerned about where health care costs are going to go," Davis said. "Making a lump sum payment as they do here, in 1993 dollars, for health care that they may not necessarily require until the year 1999 or 2000 or beyond . . . we, the corporation, have assumed their risk."

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It sounds great to many people who have the price of entry. And in the case of the Gardens, which has a clean, 32-year record with the state, it seems to measure up to its claims. But despite state efforts to regulate life care, the promises of lifelong health care sometimes end up less than guaranteed.

It took the state Department of Social Services more than four years to collect from a Thousand Oaks life-care community that went into foreclosure in January, 1989, but refused to pay refunds to residents. Last month, the state Department of Social Services announced that La Serena Manor Retirement Village would pay refunds of up to $80,000 to 105 former residents. The residents will receive a prorated refund of their entry fee, which ranged from $20,000 to $105,000, said Debra Ashbrook, the Department of Social Services senior attorney who oversaw the case.

State officials are trying to track down former residents, who moved in with relatives or to other retirement villages, Ashbrook said. Some residents stayed on after new owners bought La Serena, which is operated now under the name Castle Hill Retirement Village.

La Serena did not have a reserve fund, which is required by the state in the event of financial ruin. But La Serena residents signed an agreement waiver, saying that they understood that the company did not immediately have enough money for a reserve fund, Ashbrook said.

The Gardens, on the other hand, is financially sound, Davis said. But, should the Gardens fold, the corporation would provide a prorated refund to each person or arrange for a way to provide lifelong health care, based on the resident's preference. The Gardens' reserve fund totals more than $11.4 million, well over the state-required $3 million.

Full or partial refunds are available to residents who wish to leave. During the first 90 days, residents who change their minds get a full refund. Or, if someone dies in the first 90 days, a refund is sent to their estate.

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