(alternate title: A consumer awareness article for Smart Money. Written by a consumer housing awareness advocate. See my previous post 10 Things Your Assisted Living Facility Won't Tell You.)
1. Ask Questions, Get the Answers in Writing. When choosing any kind of senior housing, there will be different things that are important to different people. For you it might be the food, the security system, the social outings, the accessible bathroom etc. Ask the marketing person/social worker/nurse that is giving you the tour about the things that are important to you. Then double check the contract and other documentation from the community and make sure it's in writing. Remember the person giving you the tour is human and makes mistakes, and that contract you'll be signing is a legally binding document. It it's not in writing, it's not guaranteed.
2. More About Contracts and Fees. Look for the services and fees in the contract. Make sure you understand exactly what is provided for the fees you are paying. If there's a service you'd like but isn't included, find out if the assisted living community can provide if for you, or if you'll need to hire an outside service (housekeeping, extra transportation, extra meals, etc.)
3. Know the staff. Have a good understanding of the staffing of the community. Is there a 24 hour nurse on duty or on call? Are there personal care attendants or nursing assistants on duty? How do you train staff for emergencies such as natural disasters, fires, sever weather, etc.
4. If the elderly person moving into assisted living needs assistance with medication, understand who is responsible for helping. Is it a licensed nurse or a personal care attendent? Is there a pharmacy on site? If there is what is the price difference between the on-site pharmacy and the local drugstore? These are likely things you'll need to investigate yourself.
5. In Minnesota there is new legislation that defines the minimum level of service an assisted living community must provide to call themselves "assisted living." You may also find communities calling themselves "housing with services." Again, read that contract and know what services are provided with the fees you are paying.
6. Hours of Service. At the end of the day when the social workers and marketers go home, who is left in the building? Is there a pull cord system in the rooms in case of emergency? Is there a nurse on duty? Is there a front-desk person on duty? Make sure you understand and are comfortable with the hours of services offered.
7. Ask these two questions. At what point would I need to hire additional nursing services? At what point would I no longer be able to stay here? Ask the marketing person, the nursing supervisor, and then find the answer in your contract.
8. Know the company who owns or manages the building and know the history of the development. Is the community privately owned, or is it owned by Altera, Ecumen, Sunrise Living or Presbyterian Homes? What other buildings do they own/manage in the area? What is the financial standing of the management company? What is the vacancy rate of the building, and what's the average over time? Ask residents how long it takes to get items in common areas and items in their rooms repaired. In other words, know the company, and know the building. After all, it's going to be your new home and you wouldn't do any less due diligence than you would buying a condo or single family home.