America’s population is aging rapidly, and so is the number of elderly who require assistance in daily living. Baby Boomers, to many of whom has fallen the responsibility of caring for aging parents, often find the alternatives unattractive. Nursing homes can be either too impersonal or too expensive. Caring for the parent at home is too burdensome, especially if both spouses work. Thanks to good ol’ American ingenuity, however, another option has emerged: the granny pod.
Roanoke-based N2Care, designer of the MedCottage, is one of several companies nationally that have begun selling high-tech cottages that families can install in the back yard. The MedCottage squeezes a bedroom, foyer, kitchenette and bathroom into a 288-square-foot modular unit and comes equipped with technology that allows granny to live more independently.
In the Washington Post, Frederick Kunkle describes the experience of Soccorrito Baez-Page and David Page in coaxing her 88-year-old mother, Viola Baez, into a MedCottage in their Fairfax County back yard. Viola’s separation from the rest of the family eliminates squabbles over noise, house temperature and privacy. Yet the close proximity allows family members to interact daily.
A “virtual companion” relays health-related messages, such as, “It’s time to take your medication.” A video system monitors the floor at ankle level to preserve privacy but lets caregivers know if there’s a problem. Pressurized ventilation maintains a pathogen-free environment. A lift attached to a track in the ceiling can help moving the patient from bed to bathroom. Floor lighting illuminates objects on the floor to reduce the risk of tripping, and a soft flooring material reduces the odds of serious injury.
The MedCottage doesn’t come cheap — it retails at $85,000 but with delivery and installation costs the family $125,000. On the other hand, the company offers financing and repurchase programs that make it far more affordable than assisted-living facilities that charge $40,000 or more year. While granny pods may not be suitable for everyone, they provide a significant new option that simply did not exist a couple of years ago.
Bacon’s bottom line: In some states the biggest barrier to the adoption of granny pods may not be the market — it could well be restrictive land use policies. Free-standing “granny flats” are outlawed in many jurisdictions by zoning codes or homeowners’ covenants. Granny pods represent a specially designed sub-set of the granny flat. As the United States braces for the age wave, there is no justification for barring granny pods. Their infirm elderly are not likely to crank up their stereos, throw wild parties, take up street parking or add to traffic congestion. Indeed, the structures are by their nature impermanent: Homeowners will remove them when they are no longer needed.
Fortunately, the General Assembly, in a rare instance of anticipating social change, passed a law in 2010 requiring Virginia zoning ordinances to permit “temporary family healthcare structures” in single-family residential zoning districts. Kudos to Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-9th, who shepherded the law through the legislature before his election to the House of Representatives.