Your parent has made the decision to move into a senior living community. Now comes the task of selecting the community that is the best fit for his or her needs. You’ll likely tour several communities before making your final decision. Be prepared in advance with a list of questions and a good idea of what to look for as you make your way around each community.
How many communities you opt to tour is entirely a personal choice. The important thing is to feel you have a clear idea of your options before making a final choice.
“We always ask guests if this is the first community they’re looking at,” says Deborah Olcese, director of sales for Erickson Living at Ann’s Choice, a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) comprised of more than 1,450 independent living apartments and a continuing care neighborhood in Warminster, Pa.
If Ann’s Choice is the first community they’ve looked at, Olcese recommends that they look at several other communities so that they have a point of comparison. “We tell them to make sure they are comparing apples to apples,” she says. “When they come back to see us, we want them to have attained a confidence level by looking at various locations that they are making the right decision.”
Ask the Right Questions
Having a list of prepared questions is the best way to ensure that your time visiting and touring a senior living community is well spent. Olcese, who has 26 years of experience working in the senior living industry, recommends asking the following questions:
- What type of community is this? For instance, does the community offer independent living, assisted living, memory care, and/or skilled nursing? Is it a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) that features a full range of care options so that residents may move from one form of housing to another as their needs change?
- Skilled nursing, personal care, and assisted living are all care areas requiring licensing and inspections. Be sure to ask about the inspection results. (These results can also be found online.)
- Is there an age requirement for living here?
- How many residents live here? How many apartments/rooms do you have? What is your occupancy rate?
- What are the monthly charges for living here? How often do those charges increase? What is the average increase?
- Is it a fee-for-service or life-care community? (Fee-for-service is a payment model in which services are paid for individually, whereas life-care is an inclusive payment model.)
- What services are included in the monthly charges? What additional charges might be incurred?
- How many meals are included in the monthly fee? What are the various dining venues?
- Is an entrance deposit required? Is it refundable, and if so, at what point? What steps are required to have the deposit refunded? (For instance, in the case of Ann’s Choice, 90% of the fee is refundable in the event that the resident moves out of the community, or upon the resident’s death.)
- What type of amenities do you have (i.e., pool, fitness center, hair salon, movie theater, putting green, etc.)?
- How many and what type of resident clubs do you have? What facilities can these clubs use?
- Do you provide transportation for residents? (Follow this up by looking at the condition of the vehicles during your tour, Olcese advises.)
- What type of security do you provide to keep residents safe? Is it a gated community?
- Do you have access to doctors and medical care on the premises?
- Are there emergency medical responders? If so how many?
- Can residents arrange to have an in-home care provider provide care in their independent living apartment?
- How many staff and resident engagement surveys have you conducted? What are the employee and resident engagement scores?
- What kind of background checks do you do on employees? What type of training and experience do they have? What ongoing training do you provide?
- What is the turnover rate for your staff? How long does a staff member typically work here before moving on? (Olcese says this is an extremely important question, since staff stability tends to support customer satisfaction. “The average length of stay for people on my team is more than 10 years,” she reports.)
- What is the financial stability of the community?
- Why should my loved one move into this community? **
The last question, in particular, may tell you whether the community is a good fit for your parent. “Every community should be able to answer that question,” says Olcese. “We provide four main reasons that your loved one should move into ours: 1) financial security; /value for the money; 2) peace of mind; 3) worry-free living; and 4) world-class health care.”
Be wary of a community that does not have a clear-cut or compelling answer to that question, Olcese adds. “The community, and everyone who works there, should understand their mission and the benefits they provide to their residents. At Ann’s Choice, our mission is: ‘We share our gifts to create a community that celebrates life.’”
**Do not limit yourself to this list alone. Consider it a starting point!
In addition to asking a comprehensive list of questions, families should pay careful attention to various aspects of the community as they take a tour. “Look at the condition and cleanliness of the surroundings,” Olcese says. She further recommends that you observe the interactions between residents and the staff. See how caring and attentive the individuals who work at the community are toward those who live there.
Also, take advantage of opportunities to chat with the current residents. “If you want to get a sense of the community, the best way to do that is talking with the people who live there,” Olcese says.
You also might want to partake of a meal to find out if the food is to your parent’s liking. In fact, Ann’s Choice will pair a guest up with a resident to have a full dining experience—sampling the food, the atmosphere, and dinnertime conversation.
Ann’s Choice is very cognizant of the importance of being a good fit for its residents. To that end, the community has a Priority Club, which enables members to make use of the various amenities and activities just as the actual residents do. The fee for joining the Priority Club is either fully refundable or applicable to the entrance fee.
“Members of the Priority Club can come and go as if they live here,” says Olcese, adding that fee entitles them to one night’s stay at no additional cost. The goal is that those who join the Priority Club will eventually become residents.
OurParents.com has written in the past about “test-drive” programs that allow you to stay in a community and experience the living arrangements, food, amenities, activities, and experiences firsthand. It’s one more way for you to make an evaluation of a community’s suitability for your parent.
Take maximum advantage of your ability to learn more about the communities you are exploring. The more you know about a community, the better informed your decision will be—and ultimately, the happier your parent will be with his or her new home in senior living.
CHIME IN: What suggestions do you have for preparing for a senior living tour?