The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 5, 2014

Prairie Hill offers a winter respite for seniors

Residential community offering short-term leases

By Tim Krohn

---- — In the midst of an unusually harsh winter, Ecumen in St. Peter is offering a way for seniors to live at their Prairie Hill residency during the winter months.

While those moving to the residential community generally do so for the long term, Ecumen thinks there is a niche for offering leases for just a few months in the winter.

"It's an innovative service for people," said Michael Schwertfeger, sales and marketing manager at Ecumen.

"We live in a pretty rural community — you get a few miles out of town and it's very rural. There are a lot of people living in their homes over the winter and their children drive out to take care of them. And if there's an emergency it can be a long drive for emergency vehicles."

Ecumen, like many other resident communities, had already offered respite care where people can stay for just a few days or weeks. Often, a parent who is usually cared for by children will use it if their children go on vacation or just need a break in caregiving, Schwertfeger said.

But marketing to people for seasonal winter stays is new.

He said leases range from $1,998 per month, up to $3,358 for a two-bedroom with patio and corner windows. It includes all utilities, weekly housekeeping, one meal a day, snacks and activities. "We can even rent furniture if they want so they don't have to move things."

Ecumen offers several apartments styles. Independent seniors get a meal a day and weekly housekeeping. The assisted-living portion of Ecumen includes more health services brought to residents.

Ecumen operates similar communities all over the state, including Mankato's Pathstone near Sibley Park. So far, only the St. Peter, Mapleton and LeCenter locations are marketing the winter short-term stays.

The marketing effort just began and Schwertfeger said they are getting calls of interest and setting up tours.

He said the short term stays can also provide socializing that seniors living alone may miss out on when they don't want to travel as much in winter months.

"We have an activity director here who does a lot of things — bingo, trips to Emma Krumbee's and other restaurants, spiritual programs, all sorts of things."

While long-term care insurance generally helps cover independent or assisted-living costs, Schwertfeger said those with insurance probably wouldn't be using it if they stay just two or three months.

"There's usually a three-month waiting period before the insurance kicks in. But sometimes people stay for a short time and decide they want to stay here, then their policy will kick in."