MISHAWAKA -- What the senior and disabled tenants like here in the River View 500 building, 113 units that rise along Lincoln Way, is their sense of freedom.
They can soak up views of the St. Joseph River and nearby parks or venture a block or two west into downtown for eats and shopping.
But some of them have grown nervous over the prospect that these public housing units will soon offer assisted living, too.
Only for those who want or need it, there would be staff to help them cook, clean, bathe, set out the day's medications and other daily chores. But the staff wouldn't go so far as to do injections or help residents gulp down their medicines, said Colleen Olund, the Mishawaka Housing Authority's director.
Robert Bloss, a tenant who's been calling state officials to inquire, worries the new services will carry rules for all tenants and siphon off some of their freedom -- whether they use the assisted living or not. Rules like: Residents can't use bleach in their apartments. No throw rugs. No extension cords.
But Olund said all of that is still in draft form and that the staff is still trying to see how to write house rules that fit with state regulations.
"We were originally told we wouldn't have any new rules to look forward to," Bloss posed to Olund in a meeting Thursday with 22 tenants.
"Well, you know, stuff changes," she replied, trying to explain how the project has evolved.
The housing authority started to seek assisted living about five years ago. One reason was to tap into an extra source of funding, a tactic that federal housing officials "strongly encourage," Olund said. For each tenant who uses assisted living, it would be paid for with the state's Medicaid waiver.
Also, she said, the added service would keep ailing tenants from moving to nursing homes, where they lose far more freedoms. Olund said River View 500 has lost several tenants that way. In recent months, she said, tenants have moved to nursing homes but said they'd move back if assisted living was there.
Tenants could use the assisted living for just a few months -- for
example, until they heal from an injury.
To prepare for licensing, the housing authority did about $2.2 million
in renovations to the building, financed by housing authority funds, a
grant of $750,000 from the Federal Home Loan Bank and a local loan of
$500,000, Olund said. Most of the work was completed a year ago.
The housing authority had to apply three times for a state license. And, just in the past month, it gained a provisional license as a "residential care facility" from the Indiana State Department of Health.
That now allows assisted living for two units in the building until Sept. 30. But the housing authority needs to first hire staff to provide the services, including a nurse and certified nursing assistant, and choose the first two tenants for the service, Olund said. Once it's running, she said, the state would conduct a review to see if the whole building is ready for a full license.