As Baby Boomers age, we’re changing our views of how and where we want to live as we age. Grand Traverse Pavilions, in Traverse City, meets that new vision—beautifully.
As the Baby Boomer population looks toward retirement and senior housing or care options, one thing is for sure: As ever, they are changing the game with their demographics, character and (high) expectations, all of which are driving trends that are changing the way we view and provide care for aging seniors.
All of those changes are exemplified at the Grand Traverse Pavilions in Traverse City. What makes the Pavilions different from many other senior housing options and care facilities is their community-centered approach. The only publicly held care facility in the region, the Pavilions focuses on a more person-centered model that can pivot and prioritize the needs, engagement, wellbeing and preferences of residents versus privately-held organizations, which can be bound by different operations, goals and priorities.
The Pavilions is also the only Eden Alternative-certified facility in the region. The Eden principles are a holistic vision of care that happens to align with the vision of Dr. Munson, who arrived in Traverse City in 1885 and transformed mental healthcare as well the acreage that the Pavilions now occupies. Munson and the Pavilions share a core focus on the healing power of beauty and nature, with the Eden principles going even further to integrate social interaction, pets, music and more to enhance the quality of life of residents.
What’s trending now in general, says Deb Allen, chief development and community engagement officer of the Grand Traverse Pavilions, is a more holistic, rich and varied quality of life where independence and community engagement are prized. Here are some of the five top trends she sees driving the shifts in senior living.
1. A quality living environment that speaks to a desire for upscale housing
As you age, you don’t one day give up the love of a comfortable home, appealing design, the view from your porch, time spent in the garden. That’s why it’s increasingly important for senior living facilities to offer both beautiful and sophisticated settings that feel like home.
To create a sense of continuity and to meet those expectations, the Pavilions offers independent as well as assisted living and more skilled care options—all of which occupy one of the most spectacular settings in Northern Michigan. The Pavilions nestle among the campus of the former Traverse City State Hospital, an architectural gem built in 1885 in the Italianate style. Here, residents have access to the shopping, cafes and upscale dining housed in the revitalized Village at Grand Traverse Commons, all set on gorgeous tree-filled grounds.
Assisted living units are located in the elegant Victorian “cottages,” with soaring windows, hardwood floors and welcoming porches. Residents choose between studio, one- or two-bedroom apartments with living areas and kitchenettes to create flexibility and privacy, and provide their own decor and furnishings if desired.
2. A holistic approach that includes social and physical activity
Aging may bring changes to the nature of social and physical activities, but they are more important than ever—common areas, events, group dining, classes and recreational offerings help maintain a culture of connection and wellbeing.
At Grand Traverse Pavilions those porches and courtyards are more than just attractive amenities—they’re instrumental in creating an environment that fosters interaction and time spent outdoors. Benches, bird feeders and garden beds fill the courtyards, and ADA-accessible walking paths connect the varied buildings to the Grand Lawn.
Residents work with professional life-enrichment coordinators to help craft their own plans for recreation, dining and more. A shuttle bus takes residents to baseball games, the theatre, concerts or group dining outings in the surrounding community.
Dining is a social affair, with a communal atmosphere and restaurant-style menus. Meals are made from scratch under the direction of dining services director James Hunter, whose famous chocolate bread pudding is a fan favorite. Chefs provide monthly cooking classes for residents, and there are plenty of foodie-friendly events like wine tastings, birthday celebrations or special happenings such as the annual strawberry social, where residents get in on the meal prep.
Social events are designed to be shared with friends, family and the community. Each summer, the Great Lawn surrounding the campus has been home to open-air concerts that began as an outlet for residents to enjoy but soon ballooned into a beloved community event drawing up to 5,000 attendees at a time, including family members, grandchildren, dogs, neighbors and any music-loving community member.
3. Healthcare professionals at every level
Whether residents are completely independent, need help with bathing or managing medicines, or need more comprehensive full-time skilled nursing care, it’s critical to have a flexible and varied level of care available to meet those needs, from certified nursing assistants to skilled nurses.
Grand Traverse Pavilions has taken a unique approach to creating and maintaining a culture of dedicated care providers as well as continuity of care, even during a national nurse shortage. By offering continuing education and scholarships for entry-level staff and nurturing them through their careers, staff members find their professional home at the Pavilions. This means assisted living residents can receive continuity in their caregivers, primarily assisted by nurse assistants under the supervision of a head nurse, while masters-level nursing care is provided in the skilled nursing units.
4. An embrace of family and caregivers (and pets!)
Perhaps now more than ever, we appreciate the importance of connection, the ability to visit with family and the critical role frontline healthcare workers and caregivers play in creating a sense of community for seniors.
Family inclusion is a cornerstone of the lifestyle and care at the Pavilions. One of the founding visions behind the independent living units at the Cottages was to enable loved ones to live onsite if they had family in a more intensive care situation. To encourage further family engagement, Grand Traverse Pavilions established a family council to seek feedback and allow family members to direct change or address any concerns. Families are also involved in care plans along with residents, who themselves are integral in developing their own care plans, including details all the way down to what kind of physical activity, food and music they prefer.
At the Pavilions, pets are family, too. Coordinated visits with pets are encouraged, and regular animal therapy visits are the norm. One of the cottages even has a resident cat named Willow, who lives on the top floor. During the pandemic, when all visits were more restricted, the residents so missed their four-legged visitors that the Pavilions secured a grant to purchase “Joy for All” animated mechanical pets—lifelike cats and dogs that respond to touch and voice and help mimic the social or animal interaction that is so important in day-to-day life.
In addition to nurturing the professional growth of their caregivers in order to foster excellence and continuity of care, Grand Traverse Pavilions provides onsite daycare for staff. The result has been a joyous collaboration fostering intergenerational friendships, where the little ones visit the “Grandmas and Grandpas” upstairs, and where rehab residents can gaze out the windows overlooking the playground. Children join the residents for arts and crafts, flower arranging or simply baking cookies together.
5. Proximity to quality emergency and hospital care
Although the rise of telemedicine has reduced the burden of seeking medical care in some situations, one of the more important aspects of quality of life as we age is having reliable access to top-level health care providers, medical specialists and hospital care.
Grand Traverse Pavilions is independent and not affiliated with Munson Medical Center, but they share a campus (and even share parking and a pedestrian tunnel for easy access between the facilities). Munson Medical Center is an award-winning community and teaching hospital that partners with the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, and is home to 420 physicians representing more than 50 specialty services.
The Pavilions also offers a full rehabilitation unit in cooperation with Munson, where patients can recover from hip, knee, shoulder and back surgeries and more.
With the shifting expectations of what aging looks like comes a new way of envisioning senior living that matches, one where we are still the directors of our experiences, and creates a quality of life that aligns with our identities and the way we’ve always enjoyed living. These evolving trends will certainly drive us all as we age to create a way of life that is more vibrant, connected, satisfying and healthy.