by Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
When we think about retirement communities, assisted living, nursing care and other senior services, the image that we conjure depends on the tier of that often-hidden part of society that we’ve personally witnessed. As with many aspects of the larger world, senior living has its different iterations based on wealth and other resources. This context is important when painting the picture of a recent holiday season fundraising effort at the Skyline First Hill retirement community, which generated $183,000 in bonuses for its service staff.
According to the Forte Group, the public relations firm handling all communications from Skyline about the fundraiser, the community has 222 service employees. Beginning in October, seven Skyline residents formed a committee to organize the effort, calling it “$upport Our $taff.” The end-of-year bonuses have been distributed based on whether a staff member is full-time or part-time, as well as how long he or she has worked at Skyline. The smallest bonus was $25, and the largest was $1,300, given to employees from the housekeeping, maintenance, concierge, dining and health services departments.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average senior care worker earns $23,530 per year. By Seattle’s latest census, the city’s senior community appears to have nearly doubled in the past decade, now amounting to approximately 80,000 people over the age of 65. There are three service professionals to every senior in the city, and the average senior services professional earns 128 percent of the poverty threshold of $18,000.
Information about what the service professionals at Skyline make on average is not readily available, though the fees applied to the community’s residents are published on the Presbyterian Retirement Communities Northwest website. The PRCN is a non-profit group of senior living communities that includes the Skyline First Hill.
This is the fourth year for the Skyline staff bonus fundraiser, a tradition that coincided with the facility’s opening in 2009. The 2013 final total broke last year’s record by over $70,000. All of the independent-living residents, and 70 percent of assisted-living residents, contributed to the fund. According to members of the $O$ committee, the reason for this enthusiastic participation has more to do with a culture of gratuity than any commentary about the wages of the workers.
“Because the community has a ‘no-tipping’ policy, we have no other way to express our gratitude monetarily for everything that the staff members do for us throughout the year,” says $O$ committee co-chair Tom Gibbs.
Skyline is the PRCN’s “full-service” community located at 725 9th Avenue. It includes an independent-living building for individuals who are at least 62 years old, meet all financial requirements, and are deemed medically fit to live without direct assistance. Skyline connects with other facilities that offer assisted living, nursing care and memory services for people living with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Floor plans at Skyline begin at more than 900 square feet, with the largest at 1601. The food services are more akin to a fine dining restaurant than a cafeteria, there is valet service at the entrance, a concierge, and a dedicated events planner on staff.
Costs for these rooms and services are on par with luxury apartments in the area, roughly $2,500 to $4,300 per month. Residents also pay a one-time entrance fee of at least $399,100 and as much as $1,125,316. The PRCN does not currently publish the cost of care in their assisted living, nursing care, or memory care facilities, though a 2010 survey by Liz Taylor of the Aging Well Consortium shows non-independent senior care costs averaging at $4,000 to $9,000 per month.
$O$ held two events on December 13 to officially present the service staff with their bonuses. The first was at 6:30 a.m. for the night shift staff, while the second was at a holiday party in the afternoon. Both events took advantage of the holiday season to bring Santa Claus in for a guest appearance.
“It is always a moving scene to witness as our employees accept the gift of these seniors’ gratitude for their hard work all year,” said Skyline executive director Rene Dumas, “Timing it around the holiday season gives them that extra boost, and I know that it means a lot to feel appreciated for what they do every day.”