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  • By Frank Whitman

Assisted living for manamko Coming soon?

David John, left, president of ASC Trust Services Corp., looks on as former Sen. Carmen Kasperbauer remarks about the need for an assisted living program in Guam to at- tendees at a “town hall” meeting hosted by the Magas Patriot Group at the Leo Palace Resort in Yona on Jan. 11. John and former Sen. Larry Kasperbauer, right, also talked about the need for assisted living in Guam. Photo by Frank Whitman

If all goes according to plan, an assisted living program will be providing services for senior citizens in Guam by September, according to Dr. Vince Akimoto, Chief Executive Officer of the Magas Patriot Group . The Magas group has been working for the past two years on a plan to provide community living with support services for retired residents who may find it difficult to live on their own.

The group had identified a couple of vacant sites on which it was making plans to build senior care communities. Recently two ingredients needed for the program came together to make the opening of a community in the near future a real possibility, according to Akimoto. An agreement with LeoPalace Resort in Yona, if finalized, will provide an already-in-place facility and appears to have made financial backing more feasible.

“The financing was always the key and with this current activity [proposed LeoPalace agreement], Bank of Guam has been very generous, so we have financing,” Akimoto told the Times. The LeoPalace plan has become the group’s priority because “anything new is going to require at least 18 months to two years, maybe three years. This just took our timeline from three years, to maybe nine months.”

Other locations under consideration were a 2.5 acre lot behind the American Medical Center in Mangilao and a lot in Adelup. “The planning, the ground work, the engineering, all the back work for creating a new structure has already begun on some of those sites,” Akimoto said.

The discussions with LeoPalace began because the resort approached American Medical Center, of which Akimoto is a founding partner, about building a clinic at LeoPalace. “We’ve been asked to put our doctors here and have our nurses here,” Akimoto said. “This whole conversation started because they wanted nursing and medical support for their existing clientele.”

The Magas group presented its plans, including the possible LeoPalace agreement at a “town hall” meeting it hosted on Jan. 11 at LeoPalace. About 80 interested individuals attended the meeting, about half of whom appeared to be potential residents. Others at the meeting were health care providers, financial advisers, health educators and representatives of social service agencies.

In addition to Akimoto, the Magas Patriot Group comprises experts that include Anthony Taijeron, vice president and overseeing project manager; Michael Chung, who is also president of construction contractor Pacific Max Corp.; Richard Hensel, industry expert consultant; Brian Hahn, who oversees business development; and Margaret Perez Hattori-Uchima, nursing consultant expert and also dean of the University of Guam School of Nursing.

Like most developed nations, Guam’s population is aging, though not as fast as most. According to the U.S. Census, from 2000 to 2010, the island’s median age rose from 27.4 to 29.5 years. And the number of people age 65 or over who are living alone increased by 62.5 percent.

In addition, the Guam lifestyle is changing in a way to increase the need for assisted living. “We no longer stay home and plow the field and bring in the food with all our children near to help us as we age,” said former Sen. Carmen A. Kasperbauer, during the Jan. 11 meeting. “Now [our children] have degrees and they’re working; they have children in school. … They’re living elsewhere and we’re living here by ourselves. If they’re living in the states and you’re already in your 70s or 80s and have health problems there’s no one to help you.”

Echoing the sentiments of many at the meeting, she said that seniors do not want to ask their children to stop working to take care of them. She recounted the story of a woman she knew who quit her job and returned to Guam to take care of her aging parents. “She still had to raise her children, and her parents lived on for maybe 10 or 12 years,” she said. “After they passed away she was not able to find employment because she was already [past the age employers prefer].

Former Sen. Larry Kasperbauer, the husband of Carmen Kasperbauer, said that many seniors feel they have no choice but to leave Guam. “We’ve met people who have come here from the Philippines or the states and have been here all their lives – 30, 40, 50 years,” he said. “Their children have gone to school here and have gone on to the states and have jobs. They’re here alone and they’re saying, ‘We have no choice. We either have to go to the states or we have to move back to the Philippines because we’re not going to be able to take care of ourselves.’”

In addition, many of the more than 88,000 Chamorros living in the U.S. mainland would likely prefer to return to Guam especially after they retire, officials said.

Japan, another likely source market for assisted senior living in Guam especially at the Japanese-owned resort, has the fastest aging population in the world – 25 percent of Japan’s population is over 65.

In addition to the existing hotel and condo buildings, locating an assisted living program at the LeoPalace offers a number of other benefits. Its recreation and exercise facilities include three Olympic size pools, a 36-hole golf course, tennis courts, weight room, track and baseball fields. Its sprawling layout away from more crowded areas of the island lends itself to walking and jogging. Such facilities would facilitate the Magas plan for active senior living.

“We may be able to bring such a wonderful thing, a wellness program that uses exercise as medicine to this project; that is our ambition,” Akimoto said

The group plans to offer the NewGen physical therapy program to assist clients in remaining active. The NewGen program is currently in place at American Medical Center. “Our objective is movement, not bedbound status,” he said. [We want you] being physically active and moving in beautiful spaces and being able to overcome some of the pain in your creaking knees and aching back. … Let’s take that pain and turn it into progress by having trainers and therapists and massage and podiatry and all those things that you would otherwise have access to if you were back in Japan or Minnesota.

Another important aspect of the assisted living program is meal service, which the resort already provides to its guests. “We really believe food is medicine,” he said. “We’re going to be culturally sensitive to those … that want to have something that reminds them of home. These are people’s homes and we are going to be their kitchen, the food here is going to be fabulous.”

The lack of public transportation is another concern to be addressed by the program. While the group is still planning the exact nature of the services to be provided, Akimoto noted that LeoPalace is “a big campus and guests here need transportation just to get to the golf course,” as well as to shopping centers, the Westin and elsewhere on the island and the resort operates a fleet of buses and other vehicles. Once the LeoPalace program is in place, it will initially be able to accommodate about 25 participants, Akimoto said.

The group is well aware that many of its prospective clients are concerned about the affordability of the program, and is committed to keeping the cost reasonable. “It will be affordable compared to the state[side] standard,” he said. That standard is about $4,000. “Whether we’re going to be able to get much under that, it depends on what people want, but that’s our price point. Four grand a month is a lot, but our feasibility study shows this is doable. People can do this if they own a home in Guam.”

Clients will be qualified by wealth managers to determine financial eligibility for the program, he said.

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