When St. James Place opened its doors in 1983 on Lee Drive in Baton Rouge, the sprawling 52-acre full-service retirement community was not only the first of its kind in the city, it was the only such facility in Louisiana.
“Back in those days there was just no facility for independent senior living … and most of the nursing homes in those times were kind of like a ward,” recalls Lee Griffin, who served as St. James Place's first board chairman and has had several stints on it since, but is no longer on the board. “There are many nice nursing homes and assisted living facilities now, but back then they weren't very pleasant places to be. There just wasn't many options; even finding an in-home sitter for seniors was difficult.”
In the 30 years since St. James Place opened, dozens of senior living, assisted care facilities and nursing homes have opened throughout the Capital Region. The local growth of the industry mirrors that seen nationally.
According to a 2012 report by health care market research firm Kalorama Information, revenues for the senior long-term care industry grew 31% between 2006 and 2011—when American nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospice and home care markets generated $259 billion. The report says industry revenues are forecast to grow to nearly $353 billion in 2016.
Changing demographics—specifically an aging baby boom generation—are highlighted in the report as a key reason for the growth. Also, people are living longer due to medical advancements. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average life expectancy of Americans in 1983 was 74.6 years. By 2015 it's projected to be 78.9 years.
Griffin says the changing nature of modern families is also contributing to the increased demand for senior living facilities and services.
“Today you have something like 80% to 90% of married households in which both people are working, making it harder for them to take care of aging parents,” he says. “Now that there are alternatives outside of nursing homes, or hiring someone to sit with an aging parent or doing it yourself, I think that's really helped the industry grow.”
And while there are many more options for senior care in the Capital Region today than there were 30 years ago, Griffin says St. James Place—which remains sponsored by St. James Episcopal Church, as it was when founded—is still unique among its peers.
“It's still the only continuing care retirement community in our city. And by that, I mean it's the only facility that offers independent senior living, but also assisted living if that's required at some point, as well as a nursing caring center,” he explains. “There are other independent and assisted living places, but no one offers everything that St. James Place does.”
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