By Robyn A. Friedman
City & Shore PRIME
If you’re looking for a long-term care community for yourself or your loved ones, you’ve no doubt been introduced – probably remotely at this point – to some of South Florida’s glitziest new buildings. These assisted living communities, many of which offer additional services such as memory care or skilled nursing, are popping up throughout the area. With amenities like pools, state-of-the-art gyms, hair salons, spas and movie theaters, they may more closely resemble luxury condominiums than the stereotypical notion of supportive care that many people still have.
But experts say that to find the right location for yourself or your loved ones, you need to look below the surface – to diligently ask questions and thoroughly investigate the facility, the care provided – and those providing it. Failing to do so can lead to devastating results.
“It’s hard enough to make the transition [to long-term care] – you’re giving up your independence and, obviously, you have to rely on the staff to take care of you,” says Amy Linder, director of sales and marketing for Toby & Leon Cooperman Sinai Residences, a Life Plan Community that recently broke ground on a 250,000-square-foot expansion that will bring 111 independent living apartments and additional amenities to its 4.5-acre campus in Boca Raton. “If you don’t go to a place where you feel loved, supported and cared for, the decline is going to be greater so much sooner.”
Here are some recommendations from the experts on how to evaluate a long-term care community. Remember that some of these recommendations may have to be adapted due to COVID-19 restrictions.
- Become familiar with the website of Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration. The Agency is responsible for regulating health care providers in Florida. Providers, which include assisted living but not independent living facilities, are routinely inspected to ensure they are operating in compliance with applicable Florida statutes and regulations, in a manner that protects the health and safety of residents. A link to inspection reports for assisted living and skilled nursing providers, searchable by name or location, can be found at FloridaHealthFinder.gov. The reports list deficiencies found during inspections and can be very informative. Remember, however, that the deficiencies might have been corrected or that the facility may be under new management, so be sure to ask questions about the reports.
- Visit the facility multiple times, at different times of the day. Although COVID-19 has required tours to go virtual, some long-term care communities are starting to allow in-person visits again. Make sure the facility is clean, and ask to have a meal – or several — as well. This will not only allow you to sample the food – a critical factor to the wellbeing of an older adult – but it also gives you a feel for how social the residents are and about the dining policies. Are residents assigned seating, or can they sit with anyone? Do they have a designated time to dine, or are meals offered at leisure? What are the menus like? Some communities offer a cocktail hour before dinner; others require residents to dress in a certain way. You want to find a community where you or your loved ones will be comfortable.
- Ask how the community will help you or your loved one adjust. Some have ambassadors who help new residents meet other people and acclimate to their new home.
- When touring communities, observe the staff. Are they engaging with residents? Do they know residents’ names? Staff members should look like they enjoy their jobs and care about the people they work with. Also, speak with residents you meet along the way. Ask questions. You’ll be able to tell if they are happy. Candy Cohn of Oasis Senior Advisors South Florida in Boca Raton, an advocate for those looking for senior living, also suggests that you ask to speak with the family members of residents.
- Meet with the executive director of the community as well as the director of nursing – not just the sales and marketing person who gave you a tour. “The director of nursing manages patient care and sets the tone,” Cohn says. “She’s a key player.”
- Ask about the staff’s tenure. The less turnover, the better. “There is a lot of churn in these properties, but remember that the staff will work with your parents or yourself, helping you do the most personal things you can do,” says Beth Mace, chief economist and director of outreach for the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care. “Consistent staffing will make the experience better.”
- Ask about the plans for hurricanes. Are there generators? If so, will all resident rooms have power and air conditioning, or will residents have to spend time in common areas? Is the facility in an evacuation zone? It’s disruptive and stressful for older adults to have to deal with a natural disaster, never mind evacuate. Make sure that safety protocols are not only implemented but are communicated with both residents and their families.
- Plan early. “So many of these decisions are made at the last minute during a crisis,” Mace says. Be proactive.