Last fall, in its October 2017 issue, the authoritative magazine Consumer Reports ran a very intriguing and insightful cover story. The photo showed the hand of a frail senior being tenderly held by a much younger hand, beneath the headline, “Who Will Care for You?” The subtitle said, “Understanding the facts about elder care and assisted living will help you and your family be prepared and protected.” On the inside we found a 13-page special report in which Consumer Reports investigators took a deep dive into the pluses and minuses of this multi-billion-dollar senior care industry.
Complaints are Increasing
This comprehensive and at times controversial report was quickly picked up by other news outlets and spawned several articles including this one on the aging website NextAvenue. Editor Emily Gurnon of NextAvenue zeroed in on the Consumer Reports article and wrote her own, focusing on some of the complaints that have begun to surface about assisted living facilities. “With the boomer generation aging into their 50s, 60s and 70s and many of their parents now in their 70s, 80s and 90s, there is an increasing need for long-term care,” Gurnon writes. “Most older Americans would stay in their homes if they could, but health problems and lack of assistance often make that impossible.” For many seniors who need some help but not the intensive medical care of a nursing home, the growing number of assisted living facilities offers a strong option. “But,” says Gurnon,“according to a story in the October  issue of Consumer Reports, consumer complaints about assisted living facilities are on the rise.”
Gurnon cites the Consumer Reports investigation which showed that many of these long-term care communities are plagued by staffing shortages and resulting inconsistent care. What’s more, while assisted living facilities are often (but not always) regulated and inspected by state officials, they are usually not under any federal government regulation. The words from Consumer Reports are stark: Oversight of assisted living facilities is “uneven at best,” the report says. “A good one can be an excellent choice for someone who can no longer live on his or her own. A bad one could put your loved one at risk.”
What’s a Family Member to Do?
So what is a family member to do in attempting to evaluate a care facility for mom or dad? One of the best places we suggest you begin is by contacting a Care Management service who can provide you with vitally helpful information about your choices and next steps. If you’ll contact us at AgingOptions we can recommend a Care Management professional who will guide you through the maze of important decisions that you are facing. But if you’re just starting the investigatory process, here are four questions Consumer Reports suggests you ask in order to help separate the viable assisted living options from the places to avoid.
- What kind of help will my loved one need? This may seem obvious but it’s essential that you start with a complete and objective medical evaluation of your loved one before selecting a care facility. “Assisted living communities vary greatly in the amenities, services and levels of care they provide,” writes NextAvenue’s Gurnon. “In general, they will help residents — whose average move-in age is 84 — with activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing and taking medications. But some may not have a licensed nurse on staff, according to Consumer Reports, which means your parent may be sent to the emergency room for an evaluation after a fall, for instance. And some will not take residents who use a wheelchair or have multiple chronic conditions.”
- How good is the care at the facility you’re considering? Make sure it’s licensed and that recent inspections have shown no red flags. (Here’s a helpful link where you can find licensing and inspection information for facilities in Washington state.) Gurnon writes that “The most frequent complaints…included understaffing and delays in response to residents’ calls for assistance.” She adds that “Most of the staff at assisted living centers are low-paid, often making just minimum wage, and may be only minimally trained.” If you can’t get the info you need from the staff, “try talking to current residents or their relatives about the facility. Find out: Do staff respond promptly to issues? Does medication arrive on time?” You should also pay a surprise visit during mealtimes and on weekends see how the place operates during off-peak hours.
- How much does it really cost? Assisted living is expensive, averaging more than $3,600 per month in 2016 nationally. Almost all that cost will be out-of-pocket unless your loved one qualifies for Medicaid. Make sure you find out what services are included in the basic rent and which ones cost extra.
- Can my loved one be forced to move? The threat of eviction was a major cause of complaints, writes NextAvenue, either because of unpaid bills or because of worsening health. Make sure you read the terms under which your mom or dad can be forced to move, and find out how much notice the facility is required to give you. “And be wary of verbal promises from a marketing director that your parent will always have a place there,” Gurnon writes. “The marketing and sales people are trying to fill apartments.” They may not always give you a straight answer.
The bottom line is, before you select a home, do your homework. As we said, the best way to start is by contact AgingOptions so we can refer you to a Care Manager, the person best equipped to guide your evaluation process with solid, objective information. We know from personal experience and hundreds of testimonials that there’s no better solution to solving the emotional and financial puzzle of choosing a care facility for someone you love.
Untying the Knots
If you need similar help “untying the knots” surrounding retirement planning, we can help there, too. At AgingOptions we offer a unique and comprehensive approach to retirement planning that we call LifePlanning. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to enjoy retirement secure in the knowledge that your assets will be protected as long as you live, you’ll never become a burden to those you love, and you won’t be forced against your will into institutional care? A LifePlan makes this retirement dream come true. Come to one of our AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminars and discover for yourself how your financial, legal, medical, housing and family plans can all work together interdependently. You’ve never seen a retirement planning strategy like it!
For a complete list of seminar dates, times and locations, click here – then register online or give us a call. Let us guide you into the retirement you’ve always hoped for!
(reported at www.nextavenue.org)