A personal promise creates new, affordable homes for hundreds local seniors
In the early 1990s, local businessman Steve Metter searched for a safe and affordable place for his aging father to live. Faced with limited options, it became his mission to build a quality community for the people of Hawai‘i who faced the same situation. Steve’s determination was the foundation for The Plaza Assisted Living.
Today, The Plaza is planning to open its third property — The Plaza at Moanalua. Construction is moving quickly and plans are to open the doors to new residents by October of this year. Generations Magazine recently sat down with Steve to learn more about Hawai‘i’s senior housing challenges, and hear about how The Plaza’s newest community may help local families.
GM: What prompted the idea of starting an assisted living property in Hawai‘i?
SM: In the early 1990s, my development partner Mike Wood and I recognized the need for a new type of senior housing in Hawai‘i. We both had middle-class parents in assisted living communities on the Mainland. After my mom passed away, my wife and I wanted to bring my dad to Hawai‘i to be closer to the rest of our family. After looking around we were unable to find a senior housing rental that provided a high quality experience and affordable care. We were disappointed that the quality assisted living communities in Honolulu required high buy-in fees and long-term commitments that make them out of reach for many middle-class families. We believed that the local community deserved a rental assisted living option that could provide the same level of care expected from the most exclusive communities. We made a promise to our parents that we would develop and operate high quality, affordable assisted living in Hawai‘i.
GM: Transitioning from a caregiver for your parent to building an assisted living community is quite a leap, without experience in this area of expertise. How was the process moved forward?
SM: We knew we needed to find a good business partner. We started our search by attending assisted living conferences and visiting communities on the Mainland. Our search eventually put us in touch with Sound Health Management and Development, Inc., an assisted living management and development company out of Seattle, WA. Sound Health, led by Rick and Lisa Skelton, had been involved in the development of nearly 30 assisted living communities across the Western U.S. and is considered a leader in the assisted living industry. They, too, had noticed the lack of quality rental assisted living options in Hawai‘i and were concerned about the state’s looming senior care crisis. We had finally found a partner that had exceptional operational experience, a history of successful developments and had dedicated their lives to caring for seniors. The partnership was a natural fit as both firms were driven by the same values — integrity and commitment to quality.
GM: Was there a bigger plan for the future since multiple properties are being built?
SM: In the beginning, our focus was about fulfilling a promise to our parents to build affordable, high quality senior living rentals, which was The Plaza at Punchbowl. Once The Plaza opened, we all became motivated to expand and provide these services in multiple locations. We realized that we had the ability to help even more families. The Plaza at Punchbowl provided a rental location in town close to medical facilities, shopping, and, most importantly, the residents’ own families. Seniors want to live in their own neighborhoods or close to their families. This meant we needed to build more communities in different areas throughout the state.
GM: Where are your communities located?
SM: Our first project, The Plaza at Punchbowl, opened in 2004 and is located in Honolulu on Lunalilo Street near Ward Avenue. Our second project, The Plaza at Mililani, is located on Ukuwai Street in Mililani Mauka and opened in 2010. The Plaza at Moanalua, our third project, is currently under construction and will be opened later this year. It’s located on Moanalualani Place directly behind Kaiser Hospital.
GM: Are there other locations that you are presently considering?
SM: Currently we are in the entitlement and permitting process for sites in Waikı¯kı¯ and Pearl City. We are also looking for sites throughout O‘ahu. Seniors want to stay in their neighborhoods and familiar areas; they should have the opportunity to do so.
GM: How have these assisted living properties had an impact on your life, personal and professional?
SM: The Plaza communities have impacted my life in so many ways. These communities have allowed me to fulfill a promise to my parents, created diversification for MW Group, Ltd., provided a new successful platform for our limited partners, generated hundreds of new jobs and most importantly we’ve had the honor and privilege to care for many of my friends’ and our community’s loved ones.
On a personal level, my children and their classmates have had the opportunity to visit, entertain and work in our Plaza communities. Recently we had a great time teaching my son’s class about the need and responsibilities in caring for our elders. Last holiday season my wife Susan and all three kids made bracelets for some of our residents and presented them on Christmas morning. My family and I enjoyed it so much … I think it will become an annual event.
GM: What is the best part of caring for so many senior residents?
SM: Having lived through caring for an aging parent, I have firsthand knowledge of what people go through and the difficulties you experience. Everyone just wants to make sure that his or her parent has the best life possible, especially during the last years. I talk to friends and business associates and so many have parents who are aging and experience the similar worries that I did. I am grateful and humbled to be a part of something that has, and will, help so many families in our community.
GM: What are some of the staffs’ key traits that enable The Plaza to maintain a highly successful assisted living operation?
SM: The most important trait in our staff is passion. Our team members must be passionate about our mission. They need to care about
people of all ages because we touch the lives of not only the seniors but also their families, friends and other care givers. We can provide
technical training and education, but they must genuinely be caring and compassionate in order to be successful.
The Plaza was fortunate enough to hire Tricia Medeiros as the Administrator of The Plaza at Punchbowl. She later went on to become the
Regional Director of the company and is responsible for operations across all of our properties. Her belief is to find genuine, caring and driven people, and help them advance as we open new communities. Currently, all of our administrators at the various Plaza locations have held previous management positions within our company and were able to grow and expand their knowledge of assisted living under her direction and later become leaders of their own properties.
GM: What are some of the demographics of your residents? Age, level of mobility, prior occupation, financial history, where they lived prior, etc.
SM: The average age of our residents is in the mid-80s, but ages range from 60 to 100. The majority either lived in the immediate area or
has family who live near the community. Our residents are local people of all ethnicities and often will recognize former acquaintances from school or their neighborhood when they move in.
GM: What do you see in the future of long-term care in Hawai‘i?
SM: Hawai‘i’s senior population is one of the fastest growing groups in the country, and assisted living provides an option for seniors to live in an environment that fosters their independence. Services for seniors will need to continue to expand.
GM: What is your best advice/tip for children of aging parents?
SM: Have the conversation with your parents early and do your research. Unfortunately, many of our residents move into our community after some kind of incident, and then it becomes a big rush to find an available apartment. In these circumstances, people often are forced to make a decision based on availability and not preference. I encourage people to go out and visit communities and learn about their differences. Families should make a well-informed decision. In addition, I think families will be surprised to see what state-of-the-art assisted living facilities offer. Prior to moving in, families should have a thorough understanding of the community’s dining experience, activities, staffing expertise, resources and overall social dynamics.
GM: In large housing facilities, how do you care for people with special needs such as dementia?
SM: Each one of our communities has a Memory Care Program. These are specially designated floors that create an environment for those residents with Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias. The program floor is secured and allows residents to wander freely throughout the floor. In addition, the staff is trained to care for these residents’ special needs. The Plaza works very closely with the Alzheimer’s Association. The Plaza and the staff work hard to support the association because of all the services they provide our residents, staff and families. We hold support groups for the families in our communities, utilize the training they provide and continually
try to improve the residential experience.
GM: What are the benefits of living in an assisted living community?
SM: Most seniors want to reside in their homes as they age — we support that desire. But there may come a time that someone can no longer live alone in their home and need supportive services. Assisted Living provides an option for those who need services but want to live in an environment that fosters their independence. We’ve noticed that residents who were living alone in their own homes have improved health after moving into the community. This usually occurs due to improved nutrition, socialization, better exercise, health monitoring and medication management.
GM: What advice can you give if your aging parent is resistant to change?
SM: First, encourage them to visit the communities. Most find it surprisingly pleasant … like a very nice apartment complex or hotel. Next,
would be to experience it with a respite or short-term stay. When it comes to residents with dementia, reasoning with your parent may be difficult. Sometimes safety becomes a primary issue and nudging your parents may be necessary. The good news is that our staff has helped so many families through this transition with success.
I am grateful to be a part of The Plaza assisted living team. Our communities are filled with great people who have so much love, experience, memories, and wisdom to share with all of us.
The Plaza at Mililani
95-1050 Ukuwai Street, Mililani | 626-8807
• Five story building • 128 beds
Sweeping mountain views east and west.
The Plaza at Punchbowl
918 Lunalilo Street, Honolulu | 792-8800
• Six story building • 137 beds
Conveniently situated in the heart of Honolulu
with ocean views and near shopping, medical
facilities, and much more.
The Plaza at Moanalua
1280 Moanalualani Place, Honolulu | 833-8880
• Six story building• 160 beds
Unobstructed mountain and ocean views.