Inside Benchmark’s High-Tech Affordable Assisted Living Model

December 12, 2017, Mary Kate Nelson, Senior Housing News - These days, senior living providers are scrambling to create a product that’s at once affordable, desirable and high-tech.  Remarkably, the Branches of North Attleboro, a new Benchmark Senior Living community in North Attleboro, Massachusetts, claims to check all of those boxes.

The 104-unit community first opened its doors to residents in November.  Waltham, Massachusetts-based Benchmark markets the new community as an affordable assisted living option for seniors who still want to socialize and live life to its fullest—all while having a direct say in the future of senior care technology.

Social butterflies

Regardless of their prior social tendencies, future residents of The Branches of North Attleboro are bound to become social butterflies once they make the big move.

That’s because the layout of the new assisted living and memory care community resembles that of a college dormitory, Kelly Arnao, the community’s executive director, told Senior Housing News.

Each resident’s apartment comprises one private bedroom and one private bathroom, and it’s connected to a common space that’s shared with the apartment of a different resident.  Most of these new “roommates” didn’t know each other before moving into their apartments, Arnao said. 

The process The Branches uses to match residents up with one another is similar to the process many colleges and universities use to match up future freshman roommates.

“We’ve had tech help us out a little bit with that,” Arnao explained of the roommate matching process.  “[Future residents] fill out pretty significant questionnaires [about themselves]—it’s really gone over very well.” 

As it turns out, though, residents who share a common space might not end up seeing too much of each other.

“The rooms aren’t large, so the residents are out and about in the community all the time,” Arnao said.  She used to work at a different 104-unit senior housing community, she explained, and even when that community was at full capacity, it wasn’t as lively as The Branches is now.

“I don’t think our lobby was ever as busy as this is, [and we only have] 30 residents,” she said.

Tradeoffs for affordability

The unique layout of The Branches enables Benchmark to market the community as a new, affordable assisted living option in an area that once truly lacked one, Arnao explained.

“We wanted to bring the price point down so people could live here longer and be able to afford it,” Arnao said.  “In order to do that, we didn’t eliminate any of the social space, we limited the resident space.”

Though the individual apartments are on the small side, the ground floor of the Branches features an open layout with a lobby, dining room, library, cocktail corner and outdoor patios.  The Branches also boasts a family dining room where residents can celebrate holidays and birthdays with family and friends.

Because the size of the apartments was sacrificed to make room for these common areas, assisted living residents at The Branches pay only about $3,500 a month to live in the community, Arnao said.

Hasbro collaboration

Despite being affordable, The Branches is also high-tech.

The community, for instance, is currently running a pilot program in which six residents have Google Home technology and Samsung tablets in their apartments.  The Google Home technology includes motion- and voice-activated lighting systems, which are programmed to light a path to the bathroom if a resident leaves his or her bed in the middle of the night.

The Branches has also caught the attention of Hasbro, the multinational toy and board game company that just so happens to be headquartered a few miles away from the Benchmark community in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

“[Hasbro] comes in about once a month and says, ‘These are the new games we have,’” Arnao said.  Residents of The Branches then have the opportunity to test the new games and toys, and provide all of their feedback directly to Hasbro.

This collaboration is meant to give residents a sense of purpose. 

“Our residents will really be part of [Hasbro’s] end product,” Arnao said.

Hasbro, for instance, wants to develop a line of Nerf products for seniors—and residents at The Branches will be among the first people to experience the line, Arnao noted.

“They’re amazing and forward-thinking about this whole senior line,” she said.