2Life Communities brings ‘aging together’ to life

Providing affordable and accessible housing for seniors

Right outside the hustle and bustle of Boston is a place where conversations in Mandarin and Russian are overheard, tai-chi is practiced in the courtyard and native cultures are celebrated. It’s a place for seniors from all walks of life to grow old together — a place to call home. And it’s also a place where a unique relationship with UnitedHealthcare helps close gaps in care for seniors right where they live.

This model allows for aging adults to live independently, but with health care support around the corner.

With an aging population, the need for senior housing has become acute in the United States. According to a recent study by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, nearly 10 million seniors struggle with housing costs. On top of that, Massachusetts has the second largest gap in the U.S. between seniors’ median income and the cost of living. 

2Life Communities, in Brighton, Mass., was created to address that need by offering quality, affordable and accessible housing for seniors, particularly for those with limited means. The median household income for 2Life Communities residents is $10,100 per year.

“Housing is the biggest cause of, and the simplest solution, to elder economic insecurity. The most significant social determinant of health is housing,” said Amy Schectman, president and CEO of 2Life Communities. “Everything falls apart without housing. Now layer into that what we’re able to do, which is programs every single day, activities, opportunities, lifelong learning, fitness and wellness, intergenerational connections, and now you’ve got a life of meaning and purpose.”

2Life’s vision is that every older adult has the opportunity to live a life of connection and purpose because they believe that aging in a community is a key path to aging optimally. The campus provides plenty of opportunities to move, grow and thrive, including art classes, book groups, or a fitness class.

Many residents within the 2Life community are members of UnitedHealthcare, including 150 on the UnitedHealthcare® Senior Care Options plan, which is designed for people aged 65 years of age or older and have Medicaid (MassHealth Standard) and who may be eligible for Medicare. Those UnitedHealthcare members have both a care manager and a 2Life resident service coordinator, who work closely to make sure members’ needs are met.

“2Life service coordinators provide eyes, ears and insight. Your UnitedHealthcare care coordinator provides that connection to the hospitals, the doctors,” Amy said. “Marrying them together is a powerful combination.” Beyond primary care and emergencies, this can also mean everything from home care services to behavioral health.

What makes this relationship so effective is that it can cut down on the time between a problem arising with a resident and a solution, since the care coordinator is right where the seniors live. 

“Sometimes the member might pull the emergency cord. That resident service coordinator then can look in their records, see who their case manager is at United, and let us know what's going on,” said Kathy Cooney, director of Clinical Partnerships for UnitedHealthcare. “It’s more real time versus waiting to get the information from the hospital directly.” 

And with the resident coordinators there at 2Life Communities frequently, the residents are able to establish a rapport and bonds of trust with these coordinators. 

Developing these relationships is especially important because the majority of the residents do not speak English as a first language, and come from over 30 countries. 

“We're concerned with … cultural comprehension and sensitivities,” said Bernadette Di Re, CEO of the UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Massachusetts (operating the UnitedHealthcare Senior Care Options product). “People really needing to understand what the culture's about. So they, as we do, try and hire people for their staff from the communities that they serve, because that just makes it so much better.”

The ability to bridge the gap between cultures not only has a profound effect on personal relationships, but with clinical care.

“Because they have limited English … to express their feelings, also describe the conditions, it’s very hard,” said Saijing Xu, UnitedHealthcare care manager translating Mandarin for Chin Wong, 83, a 2Life Communities resident. “So, with Chinese speaking, it has made everything simple. It’s easy to communicate and get the message across.”

Keeping everything under the same roof has kept residents healthier, longer. 

“It’s helping people live and age in the community with the supports that they need to live independently as long as they can and avoid ending up in a nursing home when they’re able to live in the community,” Bernadette said. 

In fact, only 2% of 2Life residents move to nursing homes each year and on average, they are 88 years old, versus the national average of 79.

More than anything, what makes 2Life Communities special for its residents is the sense of shared space and shared stories, the bond that arises from “aging together” — and all the efforts of the staff to help foster that community. 

“I love life, and all that we have here,” said 70-year-old Lila Ilves, a 2Life Communities residentand UnitedHealthcare Senior Care Options member.

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