NWQ's Guide to Senior Living Communities

Moving to a retirement community is never an easy decision, but many of us will do it sooner or later, for ourselves or a loved one. Here are some of the area’s top senior living.

We face big decisions throughout our lives, but perhaps one of our most significant is how we’ll be cared for when we can no longer care for ourselves. It’s not something most folks are eager to think about, but it can be a positive experience.
Some families make a decision early, placing a reservation at a retirement community or moving in well before care is an issue. In other cases, an emergency – such as an injury or illness – forces families to make quick decisions for a loved one. Some will enter a community as an active retiree, and will move through the stages of a community as their needs change. Others will find a place and call it home.
According to the Assisted Living Federation of America, the average assisted living resident is an 87-year-old female who will stay for about 28 months, at a median cost around $3,326 per month. That’s just one part of the “continuum of care” that many communities offer. There’s independent living, for more active seniors, and skilled nursing care for those with daily assistance needs or Alzheimer’s/dementia. Many communities accept applicants as young as 55.
Many factors will influence a family’s choice: How much care do mom and dad need? Will this community fit their lifestyle? How much will it cost, and can we afford it? Those are important things to consider, and each place will have different answers.
This guide will help you to navigate those important questions, and will introduce you to some of the excellent care available within our region. It may not be the easiest decision your family will make, but it’s an important one. Thankfully, there’s plenty of help available.

Highview in the Woodlands
1000 Falcon Point Place, Rockton, Ill.

For such an intimate facility, Highview in the Woodlands, in Rockton, places a heavy emphasis on its skilled, experienced staff. Both the assisted living apartments and the Alzheimer’s/dementia unit have around-the-clock care, with supervision from licensed nurses and certified nurses aids, with support from social services, food service and activities staff. Even the administration has significant experience – CEO Carol Cox has spent her entire career in health care.
“We set ourselves apart because we’re smaller and more hands-on,” she says. “We have a lot of expertise when you look at assisted living facilities. We have a very advanced staff.”
Residents here can get as much or as little care as needed. While some still drive their cars, others find value in supportive services such as weekly housekeeping, laundry services, social activities, regular church services and physical support. As residents age, additional services complement their changing needs.
Opened in Rockford in 1904, Highview relocated to its current residence in 1999. The facility includes 36 assisted living apartments and 26 private memory care rooms. Rooms are equipped with call lights, and the entire facility has alarmed exits.
Within the secured Alzheimer’s unit, residents receive additional support in a secure environment. Residents keep their minds active with a Montessori-approach therapy, using a life skills program that enhances memory and function.
“Children use Montessori, an approach that says: ‘I’m learning to do this, so I’m going to the next step,’” says Cox. “When you think of the Alzheimer’s unit, it’s backwards: ‘I’m at this level, but I’m losing skills. So, now I can fold the laundry, but in a year I won’t know what to do with it.’ It’s an approach that’s therapeutic, and makes them feel they can still do this activity and feel successful.”
Cox also understands that families of Highview’s residents value this kind of support and care, because it’s one less worry for them. She makes it easy for families to get involved, through things like an Alzheimer’s support group for families and residents, and access to on-site laundry for loved ones.
One of the more striking signs of Highview’s high-care approach is its pleasant scent – it doesn’t have that unpleasant nursing-home odor of yesterday’s care facilities. That’s a sign of quality and good care, says Cox.
“When you go into a long-term care facility and you have an odor situation, the care is not being met, because that’s where it’s coming from,” she says. “If you’re doing things as you should, you will not have that problem.”
Another important sign is the longevity of Highview residency. Some on the assisted living side have been here since 2002. On the Alzheimer’s side, one resident arrived in 2005. That’s a good sign, says Cox.
For families unsure about the right time to locate a loved one to a care facility, Cox says it depends on that person’s safety, security and wellness. When those things consistently slip, it’s time to start “shopping around,” perhaps for about six months to a year. Bring the prospective resident along, and let them see for themselves.
“You’d be surprised,” says Cox. “The families think, ‘Oh, she’s going to be so upset, she has to leave her own home,’ but sometimes it’s a relief to this person, because they’ve been trying to protect their children and not burden them. Once they’re here, they’re relieved. They then enjoy what is here for them.”
The costs of living at Highview depend upon the services needed. There’s a wide menu of options, so Highview offers a free consultation. Fees are kept to a minimum – no gimmicks, and no entrance fees, community fees, holiday meal fees, application fees or invasive financial questioning.
For nearly a century now, this nonprofit has cared for our region’s elderly, and the commitment continues, in a safe, friendly and caring environment.
“I know all of the families, I see them going in and out, and we know all the residents,” says Cox. “Everybody’s hands-on here. In a larger complex, we can’t do that. It’s just too big to do that. So you do have an advantage when you have this smaller-sized residence.”

Crimson Pointe
7130 Crimson Ridge Dr., Rockford

The decision to enter assisted living is rarely easy, so the folks at Crimson Pointe Senior Living, in Rockford, hope it’s the last time a family decides where a loved one will live.
“The phrase you’ll hear is ‘aging in place,’” says Mike Barr, sales counselor. “It means that this is such an emotional and complicated decision that you don’t want to do this again, for the family member, for the family, for the family member’s relatives.”
With studio and one-bedroom apartments, this community offers many ways to keep its residents in a comfortable environment for as long as possible. Nursing staff is available around-the-clock, and can assist with simple daily reminders or provide significant personal care. An outside provider offers additional services, such as physical and speech therapy, and in-home care.
“The resident doesn’t have to go out for rehab, so they can participate with those things here, through our partners,” says Stephanie Shrum, program service director. “We can offer these services to help folks age in place and stay within our community.”
Crimson Pointe also helps its former service members to age comfortably, by connecting them with financial support through the federal Aid-in-Attendance program. Depending on the resident’s situation, assistance can range from about $1,100 to $2,600 per month, and can help to make the cost of assisted living more affordable.
Shrum often meets with local community groups, to share the importance of planning ahead for retirement living. She offers suggestions about how to narrow your options, how to plan with a relative and when it’s the right time to move.
“None of us have a set idea or guide for how we plan,” says Shrum. “It’s not something you grow up thinking, that this is how it’s going to go. Understand that it is such an emotional process for the people going through it, and for the family member going through it, that everyone handles it differently.”

Fairhaven Christian Retirement Center
3470 N. Alpine Road, Rockford

Fairhaven’s mission is “to provide a comfortable lifestyle and exceptional care which enhances quality of life in a manner that glorifies God.” Spirituality is an important part of life at Fairhaven.
“We’re very committed and never lose sight of why we’re here and who we’re here for,” says Chris Hintzsche, director of marketing and resident services at Fairhaven, who has worked with retirement communities for more than 25 years.
The new Sjostrom Center chapel, which opened in 2012, is an example of the way priorities at Fairhaven are centered on the above mission statement. Residents enjoy various kinds of spiritual services throughout the week, along with a vespers service on Sunday. Some services are led by one of the two pastors on staff; others are led by community pastors or volunteer Fairhaven residents.
Although affiliated with First Free Evangelical Church, Fairhaven offers a lifetime of care to people of all faiths age 62 and up.
The 350 residents of Fairhaven enjoy a comfortable lifestyle with many opportunities. The property includes more than 100 duplexes, nearly 100 independent living apartments, a supportive care center and a health center.
Inside the main building, residents enjoy an engaging atmosphere that includes a 24-hour coffee shop; a family room with computers; a video-chat unit; a library; restaurant-style dining; a gift shop; and a fitness center with classes guided by a fitness coordinator. Residents are invited to participate in special activities such as choirs, bell choirs and educational sessions, and to attend picnics, musical performances and other events. Pets are welcome to visit and may live with duplex residents.
Hintzsche counsels people to visit the retirement communities they are considering, enjoy a meal there, talk to residents and ask them about their experiences. “Fairhaven residents enjoy a loving, supportive and active community,” says Hintzsche. “They’re genuinely excited when someone new is moving here. They love to share their personal stories and to listen to the stories of others.”

Prairie View Assisted Living
500 E. McNair St., Winnebago, Ill.

With just 30 apartments overall, Prairie View Assisted Living feels like an intimate community. Considering that many residents are from Winnebago or nearby small farming towns, it’s a fitting environment.
Located at the edge of town next to rolling farmland, this assisted living community is rural, yet conveniently located.
“The country living – that’s something a lot of them like, especially those residents who lived on a farm,” says Tammy Bargman, executive director. “We’re also close to the clinic, the grocery store and everything, right here. They can still get out, if they still drive.”
Built in 2008, the homelike center’s one- and two-bedroom units include a large handicap-accessible bathroom, a kitchenette, an outdoor patio and enough space for personal furniture.
Residents’ abilities range from fully independent to daily living assistance. Skilled care is not available here, but an around-the-clock staff is on hand to help with chores such as wake-up calls, medication reminders, getting dressed and showering. Housekeeping, meals and laundry are included in the monthly costs, which vary based on services and apartment size.
It’s a busy community, and regular activities include field trips, church services, musical performances, holiday events and exercise programs.
“Eight laps around the facility is about a mile, so we add up their miles every few months,” says Bargman. “We had one gentleman who, in three months, had logged about 300 miles – that’s amazing.”
Bargman encourages families considering assisted living to meet the residents. “That’s going to tell you a lot about the quality of the care,” she says.
Prairie View is owned by a for-profit company, but it offers assistance for war veterans through the Aid & Attendance benefit. Bargman says the community is adding a secured memory care unit, with 24-hour staffing, a separate dining room, and a social room. It’s one more way to keep residents comfortable.
“There are a lot of people who do refer to us as their home, so that’s nice,” says Bargman. “That’s our biggest complement we get, that it feels like home and family.”

Maple Crest Care Centre
4452 Squaw Prairie Road, Belvidere

Northwoods Care Centre
2250 Pearl St., Belvidere

These sister facilities in Belvidere are a popular destination for Boone County residents who need skilled nursing care, long-term or short-term rehab and respite care. Both locations offer a skilled, caring nursing staff.
General therapy including physical, occupational and speech are available, and so are niches such as orthopedic rehab and respiratory care. Northwoods offers a secured memory care unit, while Maple Crest maintains a post-hospital cardiac care service.
“We’re one of the few skilled care centers in Illinois to offer this service,” says Marc Bright, public relations director. “We work very closely with Rebecca Behling, an RN and cardiovascular surgery nurse practitioner at SwedishAmerican Heart Hospital.”
The staff is both skilled and experienced, with some members serving here as long as 25 years. Their expertise has also helped to create a surprisingly low hospital re-admittance rate of just 6 percent.
“Six percent to some people may sound like, ‘Boy, that’s a little high,’ but you’ve got to keep in mind that some of our seniors are very senior – our residents range in age from 60 to 104,” says Bright. “The state average is 21 percent, so at 6 percent, we’re probably in the 99th percentile for skilled care facilities.”
The 40-year-old twin buildings are meticulously kept, which enhances the quality of life for residents, and will soon see major renovations.
“You typically think of the RNs and the doctors, but when you break it down, it’s also about the dietitians who are preparing the food, and the people who clean the bed linens and do the laundry,” says Bright. “You’ve got to have good people, and we have good people.”

Wesley Willows
4141 N. Rockton Ave., Rockford

Who doesn’t want happiness, peace of mind, security and financial stability in their later years? Wesley Willows, in Rockford, makes that promise to each of its nearly 600 residents.
This sprawling community covers 234 acres, and its facilities include everything from independent living homes to apartments, assisted living and nursing care. In all, the property has some 234 homes, more than 200 apartments for independent or assisted living, and more than 90 beds dedicated to long-term nursing care, memory care and Medicare-certified rehab.
The minimum age of entry is 55, and because the community serves a wide range of seniors, the Town Center is a hub of activities serving mind, body and spirit. Boasting fitness centers with senior-friendly equipment, an aquatics center, libraries, game rooms, conference rooms, dining options and a bank branch, there’s plenty to keep an active senior busy. Transportation services are available for on-campus and off-campus travel, and there are constant social activities.
“During the course of a year, we have in excess of 2,000 different activities on the campus that you can participate in,” says Bill Pratt, president and CEO. “It doesn’t matter where residents live on the campus, they’re entitled to take part in anything they wish to do.”
Best of all, most programs are organized by residents of Wesley Willows. Program staff may organize an event, but many groups and activities are generated by neighbors gathering together.
“By encouraging residents to continue to be active in their lifelong interests, they maintain a sense of purpose and responsibility for the activities we have on campus,” says Andrea Luke, sales manager. “Our concerts, our choral group, our community garden and countless clubs – those are examples of resident-driven programs that are planned and implemented by residents, not staff.”
The nonprofit organization is supported by a financially minded strategic plan, which includes an annual investment in facility improvements. An annual financial report is available to residents and their families.
Wesley Willows is accredited by CARF-CACC, a group that recognizes responsible management at an elite number of continuing care communities around the U.S. The Kirk’s Place Alzheimer’s center is a state-certified specialty care unit.
This community has a lot to offer, and it comes at a surprisingly affordable price, says Luke. “When you compare what it costs to live in your home, including all of your monthly bills, taxes, replacement of appliances or repair of the home, we find that the numbers actually match up pretty well,” she says. “In the study that we did, it was, in many cases, more affordable than living in your own home in Rockford.”
Costs ultimately depend upon the living situation. Lawn care, home maintenance and housekeeping are covered. Meals are served at several dining rooms three times a day.
As part of Wesley Willows’ promise of security, residents who can no longer afford care are guaranteed a place to stay.
“We have a Good Samaritan fund that helps pick up the difference between what you can pay and what you can’t pay,” says Pratt. “That’s been part of Wesley Willows since we opened in 1966. And with all of the services we have here, you can count on the fact that we will provide for you.”
For families exploring a move to retirement communities, Pratt says it’s never too early to start. It’s easier to reserve a spot far in advance, than to wait for an emergency placement when a crisis hits. He’s seen people prepare as much as 16 years early.
“We have residents who say, ‘If I’d known what was here, I would have moved here sooner,’” says Pratt. “We have happy residents.”

Pinecrest Community
414 S. Wesley Ave., Mount Morris, Ill.

The cozy community of Mount Morris, Ill., is home to Ogle County’s premier retirement community. Founded 120 years ago as a home for orphans and widows, Pinecrest Community is a safe and comfortable living environment for seniors. Residents at this continuing care facility can move through its four residential settings as their needs evolve.
“Pinecrest is a dream come true for boomers looking to show their parents a safe, comfortable, caring retirement environment,” says Diana Roemer, director of advancement and marketing. “Pinecrest’s easygoing, small-town lifestyle brings peace of mind. When asked, our residents will say that moving here was the best decision they ever made.”
It also helps that Pinecrest has recently garnered national accolades. This May, the Pinecrest Manor skilled care center for the second time in three years achieved a five-star status with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, placing it among the top American nursing homes.
Meanwhile, the Pinecrest Pathways in-house therapy program won a Best in Class customer satisfaction ranking from Pinnacle. The award noted consistently high praise from therapy clients, who can access a chiropractor and both inpatient and outpatient care, in services such as physical, occupational and speech therapy. Rehab clients temporarily reside in a special area while attending the unique rehab clinic.
Set on 40 acres at the edge of Mount Morris, Pinecrest is a vibrant community. Activities are constantly taking place inside the massive Grove community center, which doubles as a venue for community theater and weddings. Residents enjoy the cafe, library, wellness center, salon and artwork displays.
“We take residents shopping, and we offer innovative exercise classes like ‘chair chi’ – something for the mind and body,” says Roemer. “We have a massage therapist who attends to residents’ needs regularly. Then, of course, there are picnics, parties and independent gatherings.”
Active seniors can move into the Pinecrest Grove independent living cottages starting at age 62. Completed between 2006 and 2011, the cottages come with maintenance services and modern amenities.
Pinecrest Village residents can live independently in comfortable studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments, while indulging in conveniences such as a formal dining room, activity rooms with billiards and books, and a woodworking shop.
Pinecrest Manor offers skilled and intermediate care for those with greater needs. Residents have private rooms with large windows, and can access daily chapel services, dining options, and regular activities such as music and visiting pets. Pinecrest Terrrace offers state-of-the-art Alzheimer’s and dementia care inside a secure environment.
This spring, Pinecrest became home to a satellite location of ABLE Home Services, a group that offers in-home care including medication reminders, safety checks, light housekeeping and bathing assistance. The campus is also home to a chiropractor’s office.
“ABLE’s services will complement the efforts of our team of professionals to assist with and promote a healthy lifestyle for the residents of Pinecrest and the surrounding community,” says Ferol Labash, Pinecrest CEO.
A nonprofit that is independently owned and operated, Pinecrest supports its residents even in the event of hardship. Nearly 48 percent rely on public aid; many also benefit from Pinecrest’s Good Samaritan Fund.
Mount Morris is in the heart of Ogle County, and is a quick drive from larger communities. Located between Chicago and the Quad Cities, Pinecrest is about 15 minutes from Dixon and 40 from Rockford. Antiquing, fine dining and quaint shopping in historic communities are just a short drive away.
For those exploring a move to retirement living, Roemer suggests asking about the staff. A strong, long-serving team is a mark of quality. “When you see a lot of turnover, there might be some issues,” says Roemer. “The core of our nursing staff has been with us for decades. That fact, among many others, reflects the quality of our personnel, a key component of Pinecrest’s legacy of excellence.”
Founded by the Church of the Brethren, Pinecrest Community is rooted in faith, but is open to all.
“We’re clean, we’re committed and we’re Christian,” Roemer says. “Residents here are happy, and that’s our most important goal. We never forget that their care comes first.”

Presence Saint Anne Center
4405 Highcrest Road, Rockford

Presence Cor Mariae Center
3330 Maria Linden Dr., Rockford

Presence Saint Anne Center and Cor Mariae Center feel almost like a hospital, but that’s an important signal of what’s inside these sister communities.
At both places, a consistent staff of nurse practitioners is available around-the-clock, and often coordinates with patients’ personal physicians. An in-house physiatrist sees patients several days a week, as does a certified wound care specialist. Many diagnostic services are performed in-house, such as EKG, X-Ray and ultrasounds. Because so many services are available in one place, Humana and Personal Care insurance companies have given both centers a Tier 1 status for efficient patient service.
“Our status as Tier 1 makes everything easier for patients, and they have a better chance of things getting done,” says Brian Thor, admissions and marketing director at Saint Anne Center. “If families look at this facility, they know that it’s an indication that the insurance company and your loved one have everything they need.”
While Saint Anne Center offers long-term nursing care and short-term rehab, Cor Mariae Center covers a continuum of care, from supportive living to sheltered care. Cor Mariae Center was also chosen as one of 70 facilities nationwide to join the Interact 3 program, a new staff training program that helps to avoid re-hospitalization of patients.
“We strive for high-quality care,” says Veronica Coronell, billing and marketing specialist at Cor Mariae Center. One signal of that quality, she says, comes from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, which consistently rates Presence among the best in the nation for staffing, quality and regulatory compliance.
Inpatient rehabilitation units at both locations serve short-term, post-operative patients in a comfortable environment, where they have access to regular physical, occupational and speech therapy. Rehab may include planting a garden box or lifting groceries.
Part of the emphasis on care comes from Saint Anne Center’s and Cor Mariae Center’s parent company, Presence Health, one of the largest Catholic health systems in Illinois. Built from a merger between Provena Health and Resurrection Health Care, the Catholic-owned organization operates 12 hospitals and 27 senior living facilities.
“We care for patients and residents of all faiths,” says Coronell. “We are a Catholic organization, and our mission is the foundation of our philosophy of care.”
Saint Anne Center includes 179 licensed beds; of them, 119 are Medicare-certified, and 60 are Medicaid-certified public aid beds. Each wing has its own community room, dining room and activities, and residents can visit chapel several times a week.
Cor Mariae Center is located in a former convent on 26 wooded acres, and includes 162 beds, community areas and a memory care unit. The large complex includes a large-screen theater that hosts Friday night films, and a chapel with daily Mass and Thursday Protestant services.
Each unit has its own common spaces and nurse station; the rooms are small and cozy, while the Msgr. Wahl Courtyard has a waterfall, walking path and seating area.
“Our resident rooms really offer a community style of living,” says Coronell. “You have what would be your home or your apartment, and everything else is a shared environment, to help promote socialization. You have a shared dining room, shared living room, and shared common areas.”
Both facilities offer respite care, a temporary residence for seniors who need daily assistance.
“We have no duration that’s too short,” says Coronell. “We’ve done one to two days, up to a month at a time. If you’re a caretaker, it’s important to take care of yourself, just as much as your loved one.”
As families prepare for a move to retirement living, it’s important to know the services your loved one can obtain.
“Request an assessment to determine the level of care that you qualify for, and the benefits and services available to you,” Coronell says. “Not many people know what they qualify for, including Medicare and veterans benefits. Don’t be afraid to ask what your rights are.”