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9:44 AM Tue, Sept. 25th

THE GOOD PATIENT: What is the Alta Vista retirement community like?

This is the twelfth in a series of articles intended to demystify the experience of living in a retirement community.

Elegance.

Enter the lobby of Alta Vista, and the first thing you see is a massive, intricate hard wood spiral staircase rising to the heavens. The outfitting of the rest of the site is consistent with that first image. Fireplaces are grand. Artwork is stunning. Hallways are impressive.

Even the bathrooms have granite counters, as does the massive kitchen in the activities' room, which in most retirement communities is almost certain to be made of Formica.

Alta Vista is easily the most upscale of the four retirement communities visited for this series. The impression created is more "4-star resort hotel" than "retirement community."

The dining options follow suit. It is typical in some retirement communities for the restaurant to offer two main entrees. At Alta Vista, the menu looks closer to that of an upscale restaurant.

A dinner menu section titled "Light Fare" included two soups, chili, two salads, a quesadilla, crab cakes, boneless chicken wings, and charred pork tenderloin. The "Specialties" on that menu included filet mignon, fresh Atlantic salmon, grilled chicken breast, shrimp scampi and a classic burger.

While there is a restaurant in the assisted living wing, its residents are welcome to eat in the main restaurant as well.

Independent living apartments offer both a regular stove/oven and a built-in microwave above the stove. Both independent and assisted living apartments offer granite counters and cherry wood cabinets in the kitchen.

Every apartment includes a stacked clothes washer/dryer. One staff member commented, "We've signed so many contracts because of the washer/dryers! That's a feature that potential residents really care about."

A large patio provides quite a few tables, chairs and benches to permit leisurely enjoyment of the fine view of Thumb Butte and other scenery.

When asked what distinguishes Alta Vista, Executive Director Maggie Greenwood immediately replied, "We truly offer a lifestyle of choices. We have a motto: We don't say no, we say, 'How can we make this work?'"

Recent activities offered, in addition to those typical of most retirement communities, included swimming at Yavapai College, scenic drives, karaoke, cooking demos, a harp concert, a wine-tasting at a local vineyard, a Corvette car show, and a wealth management seminar.

When asked what they like most about living there, residents replied, "Wonderful facility," "Food is excellent," "People are friendly," "Staff is good to us," and "We feel safe."

One resident spoke in glowing terms of one of the chefs who regularly comes out of the kitchen and talks with residents in both restaurants.

"He obviously enjoys his work, chatting with his guests, learns how his food is received and welcomes suggestions. He is so dedicated to pleasing his diners that he will make time to make something special for you, like the mushroom gravy he prepares for me for my steak and the extra mushrooms for my wife, as he has found out she thoroughly enjoys mushrooms with any entrée."

The resident concluded, "Dining in either of the two dining rooms at Alta Vista is a pleasure," and this chef is "a treasure."

When asked what they'd like to see change, residents' first answer, slow in coming, was, "That's a tough question."

While Alta Vista's newness can be an advantage - the physical plant is exquisite and will likely remain that way for some time - it also raises a note of caution: this retirement community has been open for only about a year and a half. As with many businesses, it's simply not possible to predict how it would fare if there were another economic downturn or other challenges.

Its current management company has a long history in the assisted living business. Based on its history, it also appears to have a tendency to move on to other projects after a few years. You may decide that Alta Vista has so many appealing features that it's worth considering regardless.

Elizabeth L. Bewley is president and CEO of Pario Health Institute and the author of "Killer Cure: Why Health Care Is the Second-Leading Cause of Death in America and How to Ensure That It's Not Yours." To tell Elizabeth your story or to ask her a question, write to thegoodpatient@pariohealth.net.