A couple of months ago I got a call from a buddy of mine from High School. His mother was helping her parents find a senior living community. She was concerned. She didn’t know anything about senior living or retirement homes, and she didn’t want to make a mistake. It was her parents, after all. They’d taken care of her for her entire young life, and there was an incredible sense of responsibility – and even a little guilt – when it came to helping them find the right place.
I was happy to help, but it occurred to me: I doubt she’s the only person who has these questions, and not everyone knows someone whose family has run a Senior Living community for 40 years. So I decided it might be helpful to write something up for others in a similar situation. These are the three things I told her to pay particular attention to when looking at senior living or retirement homes:
As cliche as it sounds, there is no perfect community, but there may be a perfect community for your needs. Fit is important. At the Cascades, we pride ourselves not on being the fanciest, nor being the cheapest, but on being the best value. Not everyone cares about that, though. Some people expect nine pieces of silverware with their meal. If that’s you or your loved one, good on you, but that’s probably not us. It’s important to find a community that matches the lifestyle you want to lead.
Beyond that, though, every community has a culture – that x factor that’s more than just the services they provide. Some communities are approachable, some slick and always presentable, some with clinical efficiency. In a perfect world, I’d make The Cascades the best of all these things, but the truth is there are trade-offs between things like having comfortable and inviting common areas and always being photograph ready. It’s really important you find one that fits you or your loved one’s priorities. It’s maybe the most important thing, as many of the little things that irk people in a community often comes back to this.
Another thing you should ask when reviewing a new community is about their rate increase history. It’s sad to say, but it’s a common tactic in the industry to advertise low initial rates and then give aggressive rate hikes after someone moves in. The expectation is that most people just won’t move once they’re settled. It’s not only a pain, but it can have health ramifications as well. One of our corporate competitors, for example, is famous in the industry for doing 10-12% rate increases every year. To put that in perspective, we’ve averaged a 3% rate increase over the past 5 years.
Unless you ask the salespeople specifically, though, it’s not something you would ever know. Just be ready for them to give you a prepared answer where you need to dig a little deeper – you want to know all of the rate increases, not just for rent, but for dining, care, meds, etc.
I don’t want to be too hard on staffing because staffing is a crisis across America right now. Senior living is no exception. There are communities literally shutting down because they can’t get enough certified caregivers.
That said, there are some key questions you can ask about how a community handles their staff that are really important – staffing shortage or not. It’s a bit of an industry secret, but many communities are moving towards a time allocation model. That means the caregivers, housekeepers, and people who take care of you or your loved ones are only given a certain amount of time to do each task. A shower may be allotted 12 minutes, helping someone get dressed may be allotted 6. If the person goes over that time, they either have to make it up by going faster with another resident or they get in trouble. This has some very real impacts on the quality of care, not just in the tangible areas, but in how it can make you or a loved one feel.
You don’t want that, because so much of quality of care has to do with the relationship the caregiver builds with a resident. You don’t want the person caring for your loved one feeling they’re on the clock, needing to rush to get dressed so a caregiver can meet their company mandates. At the Cascades, for example, we actually add time to what we think a task takes, because we want to encourage caregivers to socialize with residents.
You should also ask if they allow temp caregivers (called agency). The truth is that agency is never as good as having a staff caregiver. If I had to pick between agency or no caregiver for my mother, though, I’d always prefer to have agency. Big companies disallow agency because they are more expensive – don’t let them tell you it’s a quality of care issue. Ideally you want an environment where there are enough caregivers to take their time with every resident, but as that’s nearly impossible in today’s environment, you at least want a community that is allowed to supplement their staff based on their daily needs.
Choosing a senior living or retirement community can be a daunting process. It can be very emotional, both for those moving as well as those helping with the decision. Even for those of us in the industry it can be hard to find the perfect place for those who raised us. Hopefully looking at these 3 things helps, though.
And if you’re looking for a community in Tucson, please consider visiting the Cascades and asking our sales team these questions. See if we’re a good fit for you.