In another first for Vermont, work is underway by the nonprofit Cathedral Square Corporation to create the state’s first affordable residence for Medicaid recipients who are living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Cathedral Square Press conference outside the building that will house “Memory Care at Allen Brook”

The announcement came at a press conference Oct. 2 in Williston outside the former Respite House operated by the Visiting Nurse Association of Chittenden & Grand Isle Counties, where the licensed-care facility will be located. Cathedral Square purchased the property from the VNA in mid-September with a major investment from the University of Vermont Medical Center and additional funding from the Hoehl Family Foundation and the Amy Tarrant Foundation, as well as financial support from the Fountain Fund and several area businesses and organizations.

Cathedral Square is renovating the building to provide 14 homes with a safe and secure environment where residents will receive licensed, round-the-clock memory care. The residence, to be named Memory Care at Allen Brook, is slated to open by January 2018.

UPDATE: Extensive renovations were completed within three months of closing on the property, and the first resident moved in Dec. 27. See this Jan. 7 article in the Burlington Free Press, which also addressed the broader issue of caring for people with dementia.

The growing need for memory care in Vermont is reflected by the fact that, based on median age, Vermont is the second oldest state in the nation and soon will be the oldest, with the number of Vermonters living with Alzheimer’s projected to increase 42% by 2025. While there are numerous private memory-care facilities in our region, average costs exceed $9,000 a month, and none of them accepts Medicaid recipients at the time of admission. Moreover, most of these facilities cannot continue caring for residents who deplete their savings and become eligible for Medicaid.

It is not uncommon for those who wind up in hospital emergency rooms to have nowhere to go after receiving treatment, according to the UVM Medical Center, which has invested $250,000 in the Cathedral Square project.

“We are proud to invest in this effort to provide affordable housing for low-income Vermonters in need of care for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and build on our history of successful partnership with Cathedral Square” said Eileen Whalen, MHA, RN, president and chief operating officer of the University of Vermont Medical Center. “For patients who no longer need inpatient care in the hospital, this residence will provide them with high-level care in a comfortable environment.”

In addition to funding from the UVM Medical Center, Cathedral Square has received $200,000 from the Hoehl Family Foundation, $100,000 from the Amy Tarrant Foundation and $5,000 from the Fountain Fund to support the project. The Vermont Community Loan Fund is providing additional financing. The total cost of the project exceeds $1.6 million, and fundraising efforts are continuing.

“Opening an affordable memory care residence has long been a dream of Cathedral Square, and we are extremely grateful to the UVM Medical Center, the Hoehl Family Foundation, the Amy Tarrant Foundation and others who are helping us create Vermont’s first affordable memory-care residence, which is so desperately needed,” Fitzgerald said, adding that Cathedral Square is uniquely qualified to undertake this effort.

“We have 14 years’ experience in assisted living, and we know what is needed in terms of care, food, services and programming to support the highest possible quality of life,” she said. “We will have an average patient-to-staff ratio of 5:1 and provide ‘telehealth’ on site, so residents will be able to avoid disruptive trips to medical appointments.”

Cathedral Square is partnering with the Alzheimer’s Association for dementia-care training for staff, programming for residents, and family supports, she added..

Martha Richardson, executive director of the Vermont chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, was among those speaking at the press conference. Noting the desperate calls for help that her organization receives from family members of people with Alzheimer’s disease, she cited the “tremendous need in our community for an assisted-living residence for low-income Vermonters with dementia. Life with dementia is extremely difficult even if you have wealth,” she said. “If you are without means, there is quite literally nowhere to go.”

Hinesburg resident Karen Pike backed up that statement with her personal story of what she called a “broken system.” Her mother has dementia and has depleted her $400,000 in savings to pay for private memory care. By January, she will have less than $10,000 remaining — enough for just one more month of care — at which point she will be able to apply for Medicaid but will have to move out of the facility where she has been receiving care.