In the next two years, Beaufort County can expect to see a 34 percent increase in its capacity of senior housing.
Most of the construction is happening in Bluffton, Okatie and on Hilton Head Island — adding about 502 new beds in all — but the growth will be just as noticeable in northern Beaufort County.
Port Royal and Beaufort will see 301 new beds, a 58 percent increase from its current capacity for independent and assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care, compared with 27 percent south of the Broad River.
In all, the growth is coming from the recent and planned expansions of three existing senior-living homes — Benton House of Bluffton, Cypress of Hilton Head, and The Palmettos at NHC Bluffton — and the planned addition of 11 new facilities.
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The companies are capitalizing on a trend 20 years in the making. The thousands of retirees who first moved into Sun City Hilton Head in the 1990s, and smaller local retirement communities, are starting to age out, and more and more often, the next wave are bringing their elderly parents along with them, local senior housing professionals say.
“It’s not often you have these huge conglomerate housing places (like Sun City) that have no assisted living of their own and no nursing homes of their own,” Allen Porter, an owner of the planned Canterfield at Bluffton, said of building near the community. “My guess is that lots of people saw that there was a need.
“It’s just a desirable location, period.”
From 2000 to 2014 alone, the Town of Hilton Head Island aged at almost three times the national rate, according to census data released in December. And in Beaufort County overall, the portion of the population that was 65 years and older increased from about 15 percent to 22 percent.
“We’re maybe a little but not very surprised,” Erika Pyle, community relations director at Bloom at Bluffton, said of the coming competition. “Bloom did a lot of research and knew coming into this that there was huge growth potential.”
Accommodations for assisted living are increasing the most, with 384 new beds planned for Beaufort County in the next few years.
The 62 percent growth comes from the expansion of NHC Bluffton and the openings of Canterfield, Sprenger Healthcare of Okatie, the Bayshore of Hilton Head, The Retreat at Lady’s Island, Sprenger Healthcare of Port Royal and an unnamed facility in Port Royal that would be under the same umbrella company as The Cypress of Hilton Head, an independent living and skilled nursing community.
Though there will be plenty of competition for the residents leaving Sun City, Porter said he also expects to draw people to Canterfield from the existing communities in the area.
He noted all nine of Canterfield’s independent living villas have already been pre-leased, and the facility doesn’t open until this winter. But because people generally seek out assisted living when they need it, he will have to wait and see how quickly Canterfield’s 93 units — 22 of them memory care — fill up.
Memory care is the second fastest-growing accommodations in Beaufort County. Plans call for a 56 percent increase, from 282 to 439 beds, in the next few years. And because the number of people age 65 and older is growing in the United States, the annual number of new cases of Alzheimer’s and other dementias is expected to double by 2050, according to a 2015 Alzheimer’s Association report.
Edwina Hoyle, executive director of Memory Matters, calls it a “silver tsunami.”
Benton House in Bluffton, near Hampton Lake, had only been open about three months in July 2015 when it decided to double its memory care units from 14 to 28.
The facility also has the capacity for 88 assisted living residents, the most of any one facility in Beaufort County. And it has a long waiting list still, community relations director Brandy Gray says.
“I certainly think there’s enough business to go around,” said Brandy Gray, community relations director. “I think competition is healthy in any market. It’ll hold us accountable for us to do our job and do it well, and retain our residents.”
While the slowest growth should come from independent living facilities, it will finally bring an option to residents north of the Broad River.
Plans are underway for a modern facility in downtown Beaufort that will likely have about 60 independent living units, as well as 45 beds for assisted living and another 21 for memory care, according to Rick Ackerman, senior managing partner of real estate investment firm Big Rock Partners.
It would be managed by Iowa-based Life Care Services, which manages The Cypress and The Marshes of Skidaway Island in Savannah.
So far, all of the county’s 975 independent living units are in southern Beaufort County, and all but 77 are on Hilton Head in communities like The Cypress, The Seabrook and TidePoint, where active retirees can take advantage of meal plans, transportation, housekeeping and a host of planned activities. The rest of the beds are in Bluffton’s Bloom at Belfair, still about 40 minutes away from the city of Beaufort.
And The Bayshore will add even more units to the island.
That concentration makes sense. The median age of Hilton Head residents is 54, about 20 years older than in Beaufort, according to the U.S. Census’ 2010-2014 American Community Survey.
But it’s frustrating to residents like Kay Gorse, who has lived on Fripp Island for more than 25 years. She was thrilled to see a sign for the planned community appear in Port Royal about three or four months ago, and equally disappointed when it disappeared.
“I don’t want any part of Hilton Head. I love it here,” Gorse said. “I don’t want to leave Fripp, but this is the end of nowhere. As long as I can drive, I’m all right, but the day might come when I can’t.”
Gorse said she has friends who live at The Marshes of Skidaway Island, and likes that style of community. It offers each level of care, independent, assisted, skilled nursing and memory care, along with the usual slate of activities, from wine tastings to water fitness.
“We have nothing like that in Beaufort,” she said.
There is no timeline for the construction of the Port Royal home, which would be much smaller than the other Life Care Services communities in the area. The Cypress, for example, also includes a 77-bed skilled nursing center with 11 beds for memory care, not to mention a campus with a clubhouse, bocce ball court, croquet lawn and walking trails.
Ackerman said monthly rent in the Port Royal facility would likely start at about $3,000.
Barbara Titus, of Dataw Island, has friends in Summit Place of Beaufort and Helena Place in Port Royal, both about 16 years old.
But when Titus began to notice her hearing and eyesight weren’t what they used to be, she decided to broaden her search. She didn’t know what else was out there, but figured there should be options with what she called a better slate of physical therapy and activities.
“They’re not as well off as I am,” Titus said of her friends, sounding guilty. “I can see things happening. I just think I need to stay somewhere where I can be looked after.”
Maybe, she thought, Beaufort County has a community like Wesley Commons in Greenwood, which had won rave reviews from some of her other friends. Its website promises “Unparalleled value. Uncompromising excellence.”
A receptionist Thursday said Wesley Commons gets a lot of residents from Hilton Head, who can afford its $4,000-starting rents and find the lifestyle and ammenities comparable to their old homes. Their rents were unavailable Thursday.
“What we say is, ‘We have crown molding, but we might not have gold crown molding,’ ” the woman said. “We’re not so fancy that you have to put on a suit to come to dinner.”
Luxury concepts have grown in the senior housing industry in recent years.
The planned Bayshore of Hilton Head, for example, boasts a putting green, virtual golf simulator, resort-style pool and private bar and club on the fifth floor with views of Skull Creek. There will even be sunset cruises from the private dock. And rooms will feature granite countertops, walk-in closets and, yes, crown molding.
But those accommodations will carry a hefty price tag when it opens in spring 2017 — monthly rents ranging from of $4,000 to $6,000, according to founding principal Greg Iglehart.
“Tha’s way too much for me,” Titus said.
Bloom, by comparison, offers assisted-living units starting at about $3,000. Helena Place starts at about $3,500.
Iglehart says he’s not worried about filling his 126 beds — 75 independent and 21 assisted living — or a planned second phase, which could include about 50 memory care beds or another 25 independent living units.
“We have a long list of prospects already,” he said. “The seniors today, they’re a pretty discriminating bunch. They’re used to fine things and demanding of those finer things, so our expansion in other markets with this type of product has been very well received.”
Sometimes, potential residents with those high expectations make their way to older communities like Helena Place. But, executive director Eric Fennell says, staff are prepared to explain that they focus on patients’ needs, not necessarily their wants.
“We remind them that ultimately, it’s the quality of care that’s being delivered and not necessarily the bricks and sticks and the shiniest penny on the street,” Fennell said. “... They’re here for a reason, and we’re here to fulfill those needs.”