SASH study helped to define needs
Community organizations are coordinating a push toward expanding senior housing options in the Methow Valley, driven by findings from the Senior Assessment for Support and Housing (SASH).
According to SASH, a 2021 study conducted by Jamie’s Place in collaboration with Family Health Centers, the Lookout Coalition, Methow At Home, the Methow Housing Trust, Room One and TwispWorks, the need for senior housing in the Methow Valley is increasing. From 2010-2020, the valley’s 65-plus population increased nearly eight times as fast as the general population. By 2025, nearly a third of the valley’s population is expected to be over the age of 65.
“[SASH] mirrored exactly what we were seeing in our community and formalized what we knew needed to happen, which was to create better supports in the Valley for seniors, housing, and caregiver work force,” said Rana Clarke, executive director of Jamie’s Place.
Jamie’s Place is currently the only nursing facility within 50 miles in any direction of the Methow Valley, Clarke said. The facility has 12 beds, but would need closer to 40 to accommodate the valley’s senior housing needs.
An added dimension of increasing senior housing is the need for caregivers to go along with that housing.
“If it were as simple as going out and building a building, I think we would get through it much faster, but we have to simultaneously solve the caregiver issue,” said Gary Galeucia, a Jamie’s Place board member and member of the SASH team. “If we don’t have caregivers, there’s no point in building a building. And if there’s no affordable housing for the caregivers, the caregivers aren’t going to come in the numbers that we need them.”
According to SASH estimates, more than 200 Methow Valley residents will need caregiver assistance within the next five years to stay in their homes —- but Clarke said recruiting caregivers has been a struggle.
This reality is compounded by the fact that the valley is far from medical specialists, and its hospice and home health team has changed hands multiple times over the last 18 months, Methow At Home Executive Director Tracy Sprauer said.
“We do have a lot of resources within our valley,” Sprauer said. “But we have a lot of people who are falling between the cracks because there simply aren’t the social services available through governmental agencies to come here into the valley.”
Galeucia described senior housing as a continuum — one that ranges from aging in place to downsizing to in-home care to leaving the home.
Jamie’s Place, which sits at the end of the continuum, hopes to address senior housing needs through an expansion that will add 28 beds to the facility over the next three to five years. The nursing facility is also adding two tiny homes to its property, which Clarke expects to arrive by October, to provide housing for caregivers.
The project is funded through the “Game Changer” grant Jamie’s Place received from the Methow Valley Fund of the Community Foundation of North Central Washington.
Jamie’s Place has also been working to provide caregiver training and graduate a group of high school students as home care aides. Now, six of those caregivers are enrolled in a program to become certified nursing assistants.
According to SASH, the majority of surveyed seniors want to stay in their homes in the Methow Valley as they age. At this end of the spectrum, Methow at Home is helping seniors prepare to age in place through fall prevention education, routine check-ins and variety of other programs.
“In order for that to become a reality, especially if you are a single person, it requires a lot of forethought, and hopefully planning,” Sprauer said. “A lot of times, once something happens and becomes acute, then suddenly, boom, now we’re on to the next phase in the care continuum.”
A primary reason for seniors to leave their homes is difficulty with home and land maintenance. Marie Dominique Tracy, a Methow At Home member and volunteer, moved from her home 10 miles up Twisp River this year to be closer to town. Although she doesn’t need any care services yet, she said she wanted to move when she still had the energy to do it herself — her old property was large, and far-removed from neighbors and friends.
“You become more reluctant to get out and you become more isolated,” Tracy said. “But that doesn’t mean everybody needs to be in town. It means that the help has to be close.”
Currently, the Methow Valley has no independent or assisted living communities to fill the gap in the care continuum between at-home living and moving to Jamie’s Place. Sprauer said one idea for filling that gap is an increased focus on home sharing.
Methow At Home has received funding through the Game Changer grant to launch a home sharing campaign using Silvernest, an online platform that helps connect members of the community in need of housing with those who have a space to offer. Sprauer said home sharing — whether it’s a senior renting out a room to a younger community member or someone offering up the accessory dwelling unit in their backyard — may require a bit of a cultural leap, but she hopes it will build community, create intergenerational connections and open up more housing for caregivers.
Another partner in the effort to increase senior housing options in the Methow Valley is the Methow Housing Trust. Methow Housing Trust Executive Director Danica Ready said the nonprofit has built 26 community land trust homes through its homeownership program, which offers two eligibility pathways: one for residents earning 100% or less of the area median income, and one for residents earning up to 150% of the area median income who still have no open options on the market.
Methow Housing Trust plans to build 11 more community land trust homes in Winthrop this year, 11 more in Twisp the following year, and another 26 community land trust homes in Winthrop at Cascade Meadows North. Methow Housing Trust also plans to gift a portion of the 8-acre property at Cascade Meadows North to the Housing Authority of Okanogan County, to assist it in being more competitive with its funding for rental apartments.
While Methow Housing Trust’s work isn’t directly aimed at senior housing, Ready said about 20% of homeowners and 20% of the waitlist for the homeownership program are seniors. She believes the community can meet the whole spectrum of housing needs over time — but it will take many solutions, and diverse forms of funding and leadership to put it all together.
Active partner organizations like Jamie’s Place, SASH and Methow at Home bring another important level of specialization and focus to senior housing needs.
Galeucia shared a similar sentiment, noting the wide range of support that SASH and other senior housing efforts have received.
“There’s a lot of heroes in this story, and they’re not always obvious,” Galeucia said. “It’s just great to see the sense of cooperation that that exists on this.”