LONGMONT — With all the house-hunting Harvey Milzer has done since 1997, one would think he is either a real estate shark or a fickle homeowner.
But the correct answer is that Milzer is a businessman expanding residential care facilities for Alzheimer’s patients. In that role, the chief financial officer of the Denver-based MillBrook Homes LLC said he always shops for the same thing: a single-family ranch home in a mature neighborhood.
The concept, caring for Alzheimer’s patients in a standard-issue dwelling, sprouted in the mid-1980s with Joe Sutton, a Colorado businessman who cared for his demented mother at home.
The Alzheimer’s Association reports that seven of 10 people diagnosed with the disease — which affects 4 million Americans with progressive dementia — live at home under the care of family and friends.
But by 1996, when he sold Sutton Homes to Milzer and his then two partners, he was managing six residential facilities.
“There are a lot of mom-and-pop businesses out there,” Milzer said. “We took his concept and just made the homes a lot nicer.”
Such commercial residential care is one of three care options for Alzheimer’s patients needing full-time supervision. The other two are nursing homes with 100 or more beds and assisted-living centers with between 20 and 30 beds.
Milzer said residential care gives Alzheimer’s patients a home-away-from-home feel, with carpeted floors, family-style meals and a small circle of familiar faces. Yet, MillBrook’s starting flat rate comes close to what the Alzheimer’s Association says is the national average of $3,500 per month for Alzheimer’s-specific care.
MillBrook charges between $3,800 and $4,300, depending on room size and level of care. Except for medication, that covers everything from meals, housekeeping and toiletries to manicures, weekly music therapy and field trips.
Comparisons still can be made with local care facilities, though they operate on a much larger scale.
For instance, the Bridge Life Care Center at 2444 Pratt St. charges a flat rate of between $3,570 and $4,100 for each of its 52 kitchenless apartments on a secured dementia-specific wing, according to spokeswoman Denise Thornton.
The Beatrice Hover Personal Care Center at 1380 Charles Drive charges a $2,200 flat rate for a private suite. But President and Chief Executive Officer Larry Hartman said that, although the center is staffed around the clock, the ward is unsecured and Alzheimer’s patients are unsegregated.
Milzer said that despite assisted-living and nursing home options, MillBrook was poised for a growth spurt in its high-end, small-scale niche until an assisted-living center building glut along the Front Range forced the company to close five homes between 1999 and 2001.
“Now, there’s not a banker around who would approve a loan for an assisted-living center here,” he said. “Before that, we couldn’t buy enough homes as fast as we were filling them.”
Milzer said MillBrook survived because it could shrink its cache of standard-issue homes much more easily than if it owned institutional-sized real estate.
The more institutional competition has “nice assisted-living homes with fireplaces and wing-backed chairs,” he explained, “but you still have the long hallways and nurses in uniforms.”
By contrast, MillBrook considers Alzheimer’s a social disease in all but the most advanced cases. Therefore, the company admits higher-functioning individuals that need no medical attention and staffs each home with casually dressed caregivers trained to create a nondisruptive environment day in and day out.
That includes “validating” residents who get goofy with time and place to avoid worsening their sense of agitation and confusion.
“If they believe they’re back on the farm and it’s 1955, OK,” said MillBrook administrator Lorraine Justus. “If that’s where they are, that’s where we are.”
That attention, she said, explains MillBrook’s 2002 comeback.
“There’s a personal touch,” said Longmont resident Cynthia Richardson, who admitted her mother-in-law, Nita Wissler, to the 5011 Fox Hill Drive home in Longmont nearly three years ago. “She can be involved as a family here, and not just be existing.”
Currently, MillBrook runs three homes in Florida and eight in Colorado — two in Longmont, one in Arvada and the rest in the Denver metro area. With another home scheduled to open there in March, Justus said, MillBrook is unquestionably back in an acquisition mode. And payroll is up to 22 full-time staff in Colorado and seven in Florida.
Pam Mellskog can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 224, or by e-mail at email@example.com.