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Japan's Kyodo News Comes to Charlestown

July 30, 2015

CATONSVILLE, MD (August 1, 2015) – Japan's Kyodo News sent two of its reporters to Charlestown recently to learn more about continuing care retirement in the United States. 

A news article (see image) appeared in the July 8 edition of The Chugoku Shimbun, which is the dominant newspaper in the city and prefecture of Hiroshima.

An English translation (courtesy Kyodo News) follows:

An Open and Friendly 'Final Home'

As part of its "Vitalizing Local Economy," the Japanese government is encouraging the migration of the elderly from large cities to rural areas. There is great expectation that Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC) will play an important role in this endeavor. They are well established in the US as "final homes" open to the outside world. But various concerns remain.

"I've been living here and playing bass for the last 18 years. I looked at a few other places but I liked it here because this was the cheapest with the highest standard of care," Ed Collins, 96, smilingly described Charlestown where he is a resident. Charlestown is a large CCRC, an hour away from the capital, Washington, D.C. and in the east suburbs of Baltimore. His lunch partner Dottie Sulliver, 83, said with satisfaction, "I don't feel like going anywhere else. I'm going to live here for life."

Residents and staff brightly greeted visitors. Charlestown felt free, a contrast to the usual image of a closed-off retirement community.

Mel Tansill, Public Affairs Manager, explained, "We actively employ high school students to work part-time at our restaurants. We invite speakers from nearby universities for seminars and classes. It's important to create an environment where residents can interact with the outside world, especially with the younger generation."

 Charlestown has a gigantic campus of 110 hectares, or as large as 10 Tokyo Domes. It has 5 residential neighborhoods and around 20 buildings interconnected by corridors. The community is like a city unto itself. It boasts 6 restaurants, a gym, a pool, multipurpose halls, banks and numerous other amenities. Most of the approximately 2,000 residents are quite healthy. 300 to 400 of its residents are provided nursing and memory care by Charlestown. The average resident age is 78.

Residents pay a onetime entrance deposit of $200,000 (or ¥24,000,000) and a monthly fee of ¥20,000 to ¥30,000. The entrance deposit covers one free meal a day, use of all facilities and other necessary expenses including electric, gas and phone bills.

Charlestown was the first among its competitors to come up with the full refund policy to any resident wishing to leave or to loved ones after his death. It became very popular among the middle class as an affordable CCRC. Reports including the GAO's, however, have noted that some CCRCs fail to return the entry deposits due to bankruptcies.

Erickson Living, the management company that first invented Charlestown more than 30 years ago, itself faced challenges as its business floundered under the Lehman shock. It was forced to change owners in 2010. Nevertheless its system that allowed non-profits to self-manage, successfully thwarted any negative impact on its residents.

With the oldest more than a century old, CCRCs are spread across 2,000 locations, and serves more than 700,000 residents. But they are unequal in size, cost and standards of service. Federal inspectors do not exist and states have different regulations and oversight rules, making it difficult for users to understand how CCRCs operate.