Lake in the Hills assisted living business nears opening with small-scale model drawing more interest amid COVID-19

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The operators of a Ringwood assisted living facility are set to expand their business with two new buildings in Lake in the Hills that should be ready to house seniors in early 2021.

No more than 20 residents can or will be accommodated at any of The Heathers facilities, the business name for the Ringwood location that currently is open at 6809 Barnard Mill Road, as well as the two Lake in the Hills buildings, at 4570 Princeton Lane, which are getting ready to start accepting clients for both assisted living and memory care.

The small residential model has grown in popularity in the country over the past decade and especially the past year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The idea of home structures hosting just one or two dozen older adults, as opposed to large campuses with long hallways that can hold hundreds, has caught on even more because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the toll it took in long-term care settings across Illinois and the nation earlier this year, according to the industry publications and the new executive director for the Heathers' facilities.

While COVID-19 has played a role in accelerating the interest in smaller-scale residential care situations as opposed to those featuring many dozens or hundreds of beds, it isn't the only factor.

For Sandy Garifo and her family, who are leading the Lake in the Hills startup effort and recently finished renovating the seven-bedroom, seven-bathroom Ringwood business, it was the past handful of years of watching elderly relatives become bored, lonely or distressed after entering assisted living and memory care that motivated them to create an alternative to large-scale facilities.

"There seemed like there was a better way to do it," Garifo said. "They were being treated well, they were being taken care of and were safe and it served a purpose for the family, we didn’t have to worry about them. But we saw them declining, for no apparent reason other than they were less interested in life anymore."

She hopes to be able to attract community members from outside the senior homes for cultural activities like music on Friday nights, for example, once the pandemic eases and those events become more viable.

"Let’s recreate community in this way to stave off some of the boredom and the sense of helplessness there is sometimes," Garifo said.

Some senior living facility operators across the country have been exploring how to grow the small-house model for more than a decade, according to SeniorHousingNews.com, a part of the Chicago-based Aging Media Network. But the viral outbreak has further fueled the pursuit.

The chance to lead the new Heathers business with its Lake in the Hills and Ringwood small-home locations is exciting to John Apostle, who is The Heathers' newly hired executive director for the facilities. During his 15 years in the senior living business in multiple states, he has advocated the industry take a more small-scale approach to senior living.

"This is the smallest I have ever seen, but I have been advocating for many years that these mega-buildings are not as efficient as providing smaller communities with personalized care and personalized attention. You get to know the people better, they're not just a number," Apostle said.

Sam Lounsberry

Sam Lounsberry covers local government, business, K-12 education and all other aspects of life in McHenry County, in particular in the communities of Woodstock, McHenry, Richmond, Spring Grove, Wonder Lake and Johnsburg.