by Amy Natt, MS, CMC, CSA
Q: My brother and I are planning to move our mom closer to where we live. She is in the hospital now and will need to go to an Assisted Living Facility. We do not know much about the area facilities; do you have any tips for picking the best one?
A: There are many factors that should be considered when choosing a facility for a family member. Leaving the home can be a very difficult transition for most people, but the fact that your mom is already in the hospital may make it a little easier. I would suggest that you try to involve her in the conversation and the process of choosing a facility; this may help her adjust to the change. If it seems overwhelming to her, simplify the process for her and reassure her that you all plan to take care of all the details. Try to determine one or two things that might be important to her in her new home. You and your brother can narrow down the options and bring her literature on your top two choices.
Evaluating and choosing a facility involves doing your homework. You can start by making a list of all the Assisted Living Facilities (ALF) in the county you plan to move her to. The area agency on aging or a private care manager can help you with this. You can also get a lot of information online. It is important to identify if the facility is free standing or part of a larger continuing care community. This will be important when looking at entrance fees and requirements for admission. A larger continuing care community may involve a buy-in fee to the system. Your mom would most likely stay here and transition through the levels of care offered. A freestanding facility will offer just the one level of care, but will likely offer lower entrance fees and a monthly room and board option.
Once you identify the type of community that best fits her needs, you should ask about payment sources. Is the facility private pay only? Or if your mom exhausts her funds, will they accept other supplemental forms of payment, such as assistance through the state program?
You will need to ask lots of questions, so make a list before doing any visits and try to ask the same questions to each facility. Some facilities will offer a check list, which can also be easily found online; just search “Questions to ask when looking at an Assisted Living Facility.” As you narrow your choices, you can look back at the notes and compare options. Are you looking for a private room? Or is having a roommate an option? This may impact cost and availability. Your mom may also have a strong opinion when it comes to this decision. Does the facility have a waiting list? If your mom is in the hospital, you will have a limited amount of time to secure a bed. The case manager at the hospital can also help you identify options and get the necessary information over to the admissions director at the facility. Keep in mind that not only do you need to approve the facility, but they will want to assess your mom and make sure she is a good fit for the community.
I would recommend making several onsite visits. Request to have lunch or dinner at the facility. This will allow you to assess the quality of the food, as well as interact with the staff and other residents. What types of activities do they offer? How are they staffed? Make sure one of your visits is over a weekend. Also, keep in mind that some of the nicer facilities will have waiting lists. Think about alternatives if there is a wait to get a room in the facility of your choice. Also keep in mind that newness or décor does not always determine quality of care. Pay attention to how the staff treat the residents, cleanliness and reviews from other family members. You can ask the facility for references or talk to other family members during your visits. Observation will tell you a lot. Keep your eyes open. Do the residents and staff seem happy?
This is a big step for your mom and your family. It can seem overwhelming with the various tasks that will need to be taken from beginning to end. Remember to take one step at a time and seek out others who have been in a similar situation. There are often community support groups, family caregiver groups and professionals you can call in to assist you if it becomes too much. Build your support network and remember to take time to be a daughter in the process; mom will need all the love and encouragement she can get.
Readers may send questions to Amy Natt, an Aging Life Care ProfessionalTM, certified senior advisor and CEO of Aging Outreach Services. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .