By Nick Diamantides
Most people want to live an active life while enjoying a safe, friendly, clean environment. The residents of Bixby Knolls Towers retirement community have all that and more. Last Friday, Retirement Housing Foundation (RHF), the company that owns and manages the community, hosted its 50th anniversary celebration in the form of a luncheon at the Towers. Featured speakers discussed the services and amenities available to the residents and praised staff for all they do.
Built in the early 1960s, Bixby Knolls Towers was in bankruptcy when RHF acquired it in 1966. In 1971, the organization added a skilled-nursing and assisted-living annex adjacent to the Towers.
According to RHF spokesperson Chris Ragon, RHF has 159 retirement communities scattered in 24 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. “We span about 6,000 miles between our communities in Hawaii and our community in the Virgin Islands,” she said. “The total number of residents in our communities is just under 17,000.” Ragon noted that some of its communities have specialized treatment units, including centers for patients with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
“Bixby Knolls Towers is what we consider a market-rate community,” Ragon said. “It has three levels of care, and it has a dining room and housekeeping.” She explained that Towers residents can experience independent living or assisted living in their individual apartments or 24-hour medical care in the on-campus skilled-nursing facility. Residents pay rent for their apartments and separate fees for the services they need.
Ragon added that about 80 percent of RHF’s communities are in the “affordable housing” category with rents subsidized by the U.S, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), but even market-rate communities have rents affordable for many seniors on fixed incomes. RHF also owns and manages St. Mary’s Towers near downtown Long Beach, which is strictly an independent-living facility for seniors. She noted, however, that residents in one RHF community may transfer to another one that is better equipped to meet their needs.
Speaking of the skilled-nursing facility at Bixby Knolls Towers, Ragon said, “It’s a way for the residents to stay with their spouses and friends without having to move to another community when they require higher levels of care.”
Rae Gabelich, 8th District Long Beach City Councilmember, spoke briefly at the luncheon. “It is a privilege to have this incredible facility here in the 8th District,” she said. “It provides seniors with opportunities for a social life and community involvement, and it gives family members the strength that comes from knowing their folks are being well taken care of.” Gabelich presented RHF President and CEO Dr. Laverne Joseph with a proclamation from the mayor and city council congratulating the organization for providing a safe environment and health care to the seniors of Long Beach for many years.
After Gabelich’s comments, several residents took the microphone to describe their experiences at Bixby Knolls Towers. “I love my apartment, the views I have from it and the freedom to pursue so many activities,” said Marjorie Grommé.
“It is a beautiful place to live,” said Frankie Enos, adding that she is especially grateful for no longer having to grocery-shop, cook, or wash dishes and that staff cleans her apartment regularly.
Another resident, Paul Berry, moved after his wife of 60 years passed away. “The transition of moving here from Los Altos was as smooth as it could be,” he said, explaining that, from the first day, the staff made every effort to make him feel welcome and at home.
Congresswoman Laura Richardson, who represents California’s 37th Congressional District, also spoke at the event, noting that it was obvious to her that Bixby Knolls Towers provides quality care to its residents. “I am here to thank Retirement Housing Foundation for its many years of taking care of seniors and providing them a safe, affordable place to live that meets their needs,” she said.
Joseph was the final speaker. He noted that two clergymen and a layperson in the United Church of Christ founded RHF in 1961. The luncheon, he explained, was an early celebration of the organization’s 50th anniversary, which is actually next year. “We want to have happy residents, and we want to provide the best service to them that we can,” he said, describing RHF’s mission. “We care about people.”
Joseph told the audience that he is particularly fond of the Bixby Knolls Towers community. “Many people who come here say, ‘I should have moved here sooner,’” he stressed. Joseph told the audience that, in order to provide quality care and services to its residents without having to charge high rents and expensive fees, Bixby Knolls Towers relies on tax-deductible donations.
He warned, however, that the reasonable rents and fees are now in jeopardy. “Bixby Knolls Towers is not a continuing-care retirement community,” he said. “People that come here do not pay a large upfront fee.” He noted that throughout its history, as a multi-level retirement community, Bixby Knolls Towers has been exempt from the state-provider bed tax imposed on facilities that provide only skilled-nursing beds to residents.
That exemption could disappear if Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s revised state budget is adopted. “In that revised budget they are wanting to make the multi-level skilled-nursing beds pay a bed tax of $11.19 per bed, per day,” he said. “Obviously, people on Medicare or Medi-Cal will not pay that tax, but we will have to pay the tax even on beds that are occupied by Medicare and Medical patients. That means private-pay patients and residents are going to have to pay more in rates and fees to cover the cost of that bed tax.”
Joseph urged everyone to contact their state senators and assembly members to urge them to not repeal the exemption on multi-level retirement communities. “If they repeal that exemption, it will mean as much as one million dollars a year from the bottom line of Retirement Housing Foundation in California because of our 396 skilled-nursing beds in California,” he said. “We should not be penalizing the retirement savings of those in their retirement years.”
In closing, Joseph said RHF plans to continue providing housing and care to seniors for many more years. “We want our communities to be welcoming places where people can enjoy the quality of life they so richly deserve,” he said. “We believe that everyone is a child of God and is loved by God and deserves to be loved by us.”