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With Love to San Antonio Families Affected By Dementia

Most senior living industry experts would tell you that the average length of stay in a memory care facility is about 12-18 months. Any family member who has experienced caregiving for someone living with dementia will tell you that dementia can be a factor for 10, 15, or more years. That means that the average family gets professional dementia support for about 10-15% of their journey at most – and it’s all at the end. Here’s what this looks like visually.

The Problems Facing Families

Most families face dementia alone. We’ve heard it said that families of dementia feel lonely. The person living with dementia feels isolated. These feelings of loneliness and isolation are compounded by many things: 

  1. Lack of Awareness – Let’s face it, most of us don’t research dementia unless (until) it impacts our families directly. Even when we begin researching Alzheimer’s disease or any other form of dementia, the information is hard to find, and often, it is overly scientific or academic in terminology. According to the World Health Organization, there are 50 million people worldwide with dementia, with Alzheimer’s disease contributing to 60-70% of the cases. Still, few people know much about dementia or where to even look for information that will help them day-to-day.
  2. Stigmatized – Families of People Living With Dementia (PLWD) may remember a time when cancer was a taboo topic of discussion. If someone in your family was diagnosed with “the big C,” you didn’t talk about it. Today, with growing research, awareness, and normalization of seeking and providing support for people with cancer, the topic is more commonplace for people to discuss. This is not the case with dementia. It is the new taboo, and it shouldn’t be. Families, unfortunately, feel shame around the topic, and many people unnecessarily face this alone.
  3. Expensive – Traditional memory care facilities are costly. We understand that not everyone can afford $6,000 to $10,000/month. There are few alternatives, and in-home caregivers can get just as expensive if not more so (24-hour care at $20/hr is $14,400/month). Even if you can afford it, the process of moving a loved one into a memory care facility feels like you’ve sequestered them for the rest of their lives. Even old terminology such as “locked units” still lingers in industry vernacular. Yes, you feel some relief from your tremendous caregiving responsibilities, but you’re left to deal with a new feeling: guilt.
  4. Frustrating Research Process for Senior Living – Try researching local memory care options, and you’ll likely feel frustrated before too long. Getting help from a national “placement agency” will result in your phone number or email address being blasted to every assisted living facility in town. You can’t find prices online, you have no way to compare one place to another, and most times, you can’t get a straight answer from facilities to simple questions like “what is your staffing ratio for residents?” Most people end up putting off support even longer just to get out of the “sales cycle” of senior living. Local placement businesses will fare you a better experience, but many people don’t know about them.
  5. Lack of Support – All of the above conditions lead to a general lack of meaningful support to those families impacted by dementia. As the disease progresses, everyone in the family becomes further and further isolated. Again, even if you move a resident into a memory care facility, the people you come to trust (caregivers/nurses) turn over at alarming rates (over 100% annually across the industry).

A Better Way

Families deserve more options than just a final stop on a journey. The founders of Bella Groves have a different vision of helping families from DAY ONE of their journey in dementia. It begins with a simple belief – senior living isn’t a place; it’s a service.

A great majority of the services offered in traditional memory care facilities CAN be delivered outside its walls so that families can be more successful in caring for their loved ones from home. What people need in their journey with dementia are:

  • Easy access to practical advice, resources, and knowledge about dementia
  • Training opportunities to learn, practice, improve their own caregiving skills
  • A social support community of other families going through dementia
  • The know-how of dementia experts and senior care professionals
  • Coaching in understanding, coordinating, and delivering care
  • Transparency about senior living options (price, staffing, dementia program, etc.)

The Social Contract of Dementia Care

What senior care companies should be are curators, coordinators, and facilitators. There is a social contract of sorts when it comes to dementia care. Our belief is simple and rooted in the true meaning of the word community: we are in this together. Too many relationships between families and senior care facilities become a de facto “client and customer” one. It’s transactional.

But, a community of people owes more to one another than that. The social contract is that families, healthcare professionals, the greater community of San Antonio (in our case), and Bella Groves (dementia care team) have shared responsibilities to a person living with dementia. 

When families are connected to a support system, led by dementia care experts, earlier in the journey – the path becomes clearer. You’re not just talking about care anymore; you’re talking about vitality. We are pursuing a higher calling than providing assistance of daily living. We’re pursuing a family’s fundamental right to something dementia disrupts – unconditional joy. In fact, this is our company’s tagline. It is our guiding mission.

It helps us focus on more than providing great care, food, and service within the walls of our dementia care residence. We turn our attention to much more: 

  • Helping People Living With Dementia (PLWD) to remain active and engaged members of their community. Hosting a local farmer’s market; beginning an after-school program led by residents (there’s an elementary school next door to us); making bucket-list trips happen (not just virtually – for real), and anything else a person without dementia pursues.
  • Whole-person vitality, which includes topics not discussed in most care facilities: sexual health, mental health, social engagement and connectivity to the greater community, self-actualization, learning, spirituality, and so much more.
  • Educating community partners on dementia and helping them develop dementia-friendly initiatives: local restaurants, places of worship, healthcare organizations, civic organizations, and just about any place that wants to improve the inclusion of people living with dementia in society. One of our early goals is to help restaurants create “dementia-friendly sections” so PLWD can still enjoy their favorite places to eat (in quiet, designated areas with staff trained in dementia knowledge).

The possibilities are endless. The partnerships are unlimited. Our dementia care residence (in Bulverde) is not a final stop. It is the hub – the laboratory – from which all of our efforts emanate out to our community. Senior living isn’t a place. It’s a service.

Bella Groves will begin its launch with a dementia care residence, a pair of beautiful, newly built sixteen-bed houses. We are building out the content, partnerships, and technology to deliver on our vision of dementia training, education, coaching, and care coordination services to San Antonio. We are currently meeting families and accepting reservations for resident members to move in Fall 2021, and we anticipate Levels One and Two to launch in the Spring of 2022.

The People Behind Bella Groves

The founders of Bella Groves have a mix of personal and professional experiences with dementia. Aaron and Dave live in Austin, Texas, and are both excited to fund, support, and serve the organization as co-founders and board members. They bring their vast experiences in real estate, medical devices, and investment into the venture, along with personal stake in serving their own families and friends affected by dementia.

James lives in San Antonio, Texas, and is a 13-year industry leader in the senior living profession. A nationally respected speaker, trainer, consultant, and leader in the field, James is excited to serve Bella Groves as its CEO and co-founder. He lives only minutes away from the initial Bella Groves site in the Johnson Ranch master development community in Bulverde. He will be intimately involved in the day-to-day operations of both the Bella Groves residence and the development of training content and care coordination for families (Levels One and Two) – with an anticipated launch in Spring 2022.

Starting with a Different Premise

James began his senior living career as a caregiver making $8/hour. Not much has changed in 13 years. The average caregiver wages in Texas in 2020 were $10.08.

Bella Groves doesn’t have shareholders, private equity investors, or others to report profits to other than its local co-founders. So, we’re starting on the premise of paying caregivers and all Bella Groves team members better wages through profit sharing, longevity bonuses, and higher base pay. 

And more than just paying better wages, all leaders (including executives) at Bella Groves will work at least one full caregiving shift each month – rotating through morning, evening, and overnight shifts – to remain close to team members, residents, and the mission. Most senior living companies have an internal business mantra: “everyone sells.” Ours is different: everyone cares.

Today, there are senior living companies where its executives make decisions that dramatically impact seniors, families, and employees without ever stepping foot inside the building. It’s not out of disinterest. It is simply that some companies are so large that it would be impossible for the CEO, COO, or other executives to visit every property even once a year. Middle managers are over-burdened with extreme workloads, and initiatives are prioritized to sales and occupancy versus care, innovation, and reflection of local needs.

We believe in transparency in supporting families with knowledge that’s helpful to them. 

Our website will have pricing listed right on it. We will share our caregiver staffing ratios. We will share graphics and data like the wage information above. We will shine a light on all factors that impact the business of senior care so that we can all have equitable voices in the practice of senior care. 

A Promise to Central Texas

A foundational promise that the founders made to one another has to do with the company’s long-term growth. Senior living companies are either small (1-3 places locally), medium (10-20 in a large geographic area), or large (20-50+ in many states/national). 

We believe that senior care should be local people helping local people. That doesn’t mean just having local caregivers. It also means local owners. The founders are building an organization that serves towns near and between San Antonio and Austin. If a family member needs to talk to one of the owners, we’ll meet you at a local coffee shop – not on a video call from across the country.

We are also focused on making diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) a vital part of our team’s development, growth, and decision-making. Having diversity on the frontlines alone doesn’t count. That’s actually the opposite. As we grow our business, the makeup of our senior leadership team and the voices at the table will mirror the local demographic we serve.

The Work Continues

We are ready to serve you: families, caregivers, professionals, health care teams, the community of San Antonio, and ultimately to model a different path for companies in the senior living industry who want to adapt beyond a real-estate model of care. 

  • If you are a professional in the industry who wants to join this mission – call us.
  • If you are a family member in San Antonio who wants to find out more – call us.
  • If you are an expert in dementia or senior care and want to collaborate – call us.
  • If you have a business in San Antonio and want to train your teams to serve your customers who are impacted by dementia – call us.

Bella Groves will soon employ more than the traditional roles in senior living. We’ll need content writers, developers, dementia experts, videographers, instructional designers, organizational development leaders, trainers, and more. That’s why we’re not called “Bella Groves Senior Living.”

Let us together imagine a different world of dementia. YES, we want to see a world without dementia. We are working toward the obsolescence of the need for “dementia care.” In the meantime, we can help you toward a better mantra than what dementia is currently known for – “the long goodbye.” Let’s replace that together with unconditional joy.

With Love, 

James, Aaron, and Dave

09-01-2021 Bella Groves

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