Saturday, 31 August 2013

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SUNSET BLISS: Despite various challenges such as the lack of expertise, laws and high cost associated with retirement villages, a silver lining appears in the horizon as a greying Malaysian population ups the demand Seronok does not advertise and is recommended via word of mouth. The retirement village, which prides itself as being the first in the country with such a concept, currently has about 20 – 30 people in the waiting list.

Demand on uptrend
Judging from the waiting list, there is clearly a demand for such housing. However, developers are not jumping onto the bandwagon in a hurry despite PEMANDU (Performance Management & Delivery Unit) statistics showing that 15 per cent of the population is projected to be over 60 years old by 2030.

Imported expertise
“Apart from location, affordability and safety, the additional factors that would make any retirement village a success are soft facilities that cater to the psychological, emotional and spiritual needs of a senior. These have to be reflected in the design and services of the retirement village,” says Richard Lim, Director of ZenCare Lifestyles Australia. Lim has been involved in senior housing in Australia since 1998 and was the Founding Director of Australia’s first Asian-specific Aging in Place in Brisbane, Australia.

GreenAcres, Australian model
One of Lim’s clients is Total Investment Group based in Ipoh, Perak. Their retirement village, GreenAcres, is reputedly the first in Malaysia to incorporate the Australian model of a retirement village. The project, to be located on 10 acres of land in Bandar Meru Raya in Ipoh comprises a minimum of 120 units of single-storey villas of between 650 -1,000 sq ft built-up.

Australian experience
The Australian model certainly has its advantages and experts such as Lim and Tectura Architects from Australia have been engaged to advise on its implementation. According to research done by Tectura Architects for PEMANDU, aged care services in Australia are subsidised by the Australian government from general tax revenue with the state governments and care recipients contributing various portions of the total costs.

For the long-term, PEMANDU is looking into the Aged Care Industry and developing possible Entry Point Projects (EPPs) that could help spur the growth of the industry and transform it from a neglected one to one that is recognised as part of the healthcare industry. In September last year, PEMANDU’s Healthcare NKEA ran a Seniors Living Lab divided into three work streams namely, Retirement 

In a two-acre piece of land in Cheras, about 30 single-storey houses cater to a special class of residents. These are elderly but independent people who despite their age, still value their independence in living in separate housing. Each of these 650-sq ft houses has a bedroom, kitchen and living/dining area allowing a great deal of freedom, privacy and space as compared to rooms in an elderly care home.
Established in 1988, Sri Seronok Retirement Village, was conceived by former Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, Soter Fernandez, as a retirement village for elderly single persons and couples to live in. The village offers comfortable and self-contained units in a pleasant and safe environment.
“Soter generously gave us some land in Cheras adjacent to our Hospice Centre to build a place where elderly people with no homes could live,” recalls Datuk Dr Peter Mooney, Director of Sri Seronok Retirement Resort, adding that his godson, Christopher, son of the late Tan Sri Alex Lee, did the detailed architectural work while the church provided financial assistance.   
The chalets are grouped around interior lawns with flowering shrubs and trees with a covered walkway linking them. There is a common room for socialising and for the lunches that are organised for special events. On hand are a full-time gardener, a handyman and a resident warden who looks after the village.
The units are rented to the residents and the rent pays for the upkeep of the village while the balance is used to repay the Archbishop for the original cost of construction. According to Mooney, the village only accepts residents who are able to live independently. “Residents are free to move around and go out to the shops and restaurants nearby,” the director adds.
Elderly folks require housing that ideally has nursing care facilities to cater for their declining physical and mental agility and increased old age-related disabilities such as dementia, memory loss, diabetes, etc.  Most families in Malaysia live with their elderly parents with very few sending them to old folks homes. This is due to cultural norms which place emphasis on caring for their elderly. Hence, demand for such housing has yet to reach a critical point unlike places like Singapore which suffers from a shortage of accommodation space.

Singapore’s HDB (Housing Development Board) flats can hardly accommodate more than four and easily become cramped if parents are taken in. This has given rise to reported cases of “parents dumping” where elderly Singaporeans especially those with memory or mental problems are “abandoned” in neighbouring Johor especially in Johor Bahru.
In Malaysia, thankfully the situation has not reached that level yet but looking at the figures, there is certainly a gap in such housing. As baby boomers reach their 60s, the need for such accommodation will become more pronounced. Developers have cited lack of expertise, unfamiliarity and high costs to build such housing which would require nursing care facilities, among others. Furthermore, there is a lack of legislation dealing with this type of housing as they are neither hospitals nor old folks homes.  
Clearly, Australia, Europe and the US are far advanced in this industry and we should take a leaf out from their books.  
Retirement villages can be in the form of multigenerational homes (to cater for family members living with them), high density residences or even retirement resorts. The integration of senior friendly designs and support services within a retirement village allows them to maintain their previous lifestyle in their own homes even with increasing disability.
In addition, many of such retirement communities in Australia and the US provide meal preparation, housekeeping, assistance in the usage of equipment like the telephone, routine medical check-up and follow-ups, medication reminders, nutrition screening and therapy, transportation to nearby locations and in some places even routine shopping trips. Talks and wellness programmes are also often organised to inform the residents of old age-related afflictions.
He provides assistance to developers with the start-up, concept, planning of the legal structure and taxation, as well as marketing and management of the village. For Lim, the most crucial component for a successful retirement village is the management of the village itself.
“With the right management structure, success can be attained and this would attract many to joint venture with the retirement villages,” he says. The consultant reveals that many Malaysian developers like the concept of a retirement village and agree that there is a market for these in Malaysia. “But they are hesitant to start due to several reasons while some are waiting to see whether it would really take off.
Admittedly, a number have failed and have been converted into normal residential projects.”
“We are currently waiting for approval for the building plans and are still fine-tuning the details for the individuals units and the clubhouse,” says John Chong, Executive Director of Total Investment Group.
Lim adds that since GreenAcres was mooted, “it has been 3 ½ years of challenging journey to bring it to this stage as Malaysia still lacks the professional expertise in this area. Among the hurdles were the design where we had to engage Australian architects to work alongside the local architect to create the right atmosphere for the seniors. We seek the ‘wow’ factor that would attract seniors to reside here.”
Says Chong Heng Kiong, co-founder of Total Investment Group and mother to John, “We’ve seen retirement villages overseas many years ago and thought that it was a good solution to address the lifestyle needs of the retirees here in Malaysia. There is certainly a gap in the marketplace, so we decided it was the right time to go ahead with developing a proper retirement village for Malaysians so that the needs of the retirees are catered for.”
GreenAcres is Mrs Chong’s pet project and is geared towards the upper middle income group with tentative prices starting from RM300,000 onwards. The gated and guarded community is due to launch end of this year or beginning of 2014.
“We needed foreign expertise to ensure the units are well catered for the elderly and would be equipped with some elderly-friendly features like slightly larger doorways for wheelchair usage, ramps for wheelchair, and units fitted with alarm buttons  should the residents need any assistance,” John says, noting that GreenAcres is for the mobile and independent elderly people.
In the pipeline are plans to start a private medical centre nearby the village soon. For now, there is the MMC Medical centre and Pantai Medical Centre about 10 mins drive away. The developer will also get a doctor to visit the clubhouse regularly for the residents to consult on minor ailments and to seek medical advice.
The clubhouse will house dining facilities, an in-house cinema, a wellness room, a library, and a computer and games room. The developer is also working with a local hairdresser to visit the clubhouse.
Laundry and housekeeping services are also provided on a pay as you go basis while a village bus would be planned with a dedicated route to the nearest malls, hypermarket and other public amenities.
Australia has several successful retirement villages, for example, Jacaranda Village by Tectura Architects. This is a residential care facility located in Red Cliffs, Victoria providing 75 beds. The model of care is based on the Eden Alternative philosophy (See Table 1) which adopts a person-centred approach to care and, in particular, aims to empower its residents in making choices in their daily life, effectively preventing feelings of boredom and loneliness.

“Silver market”
“The impending demographic shift will exacerbate current challenges such as capacity and access to healthcare, funding of long-term care and the provision of adequate facilities for the retired,” says Dr Chua Hong Teck, Director of NKEA Healthcare, PEMANDU.
“However, these challenges are simultaneously developing a growing “silver market” presenting vast business opportunities.”
Investing in retirement villages is definitely on the radar of a number of developers in ASEAN, including Malaysia. A consultant from Frost & Sullivan’s Global Healthcare Practice has reportedly said potential investors could be Khazanah and Indonesia’s Lippo group, which have the resources to enter the Asian healthcare market.
The Malaysian government is also working on the latest laws to ensure the continuous care and well-being of the elderly in Malaysia. PEMANDU is engaging officers from the various ministries and governmental departments including the Ministry of Health, Welfare Department, Jabatan Perkhidmatan Awam (JPA), Department of Standards, Ministry of Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government, Town and Country Planning Department, major real estate developers, Malaysia Property Incorporated, Real Estate And Housing Developers‘ Association (REHDA), banks and insurance companies with a view towards improving the situation.
Let’s hope more retirement villages are built as more in Malaysia reach their golden years.

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