Expert Also Shares the Biggest Mistake You Can Make
Seventy percent of people age 65 and older will need long-term care at some point in their lives, according to a 2014 study by CareScout, a division of Genworth Financial Services.
"But that doesn't mean they have to sacrifice their quality of life," says Peder Johnsen, CEO of Concordis Senior Living, www.concordisseniorliving.com, which owns, operates and develops senior housing communities.
"In fact, a person who needs some assistance with day-to-day living will often find he or she is much happier in a good assisted-living community with an atmosphere that reminds them of their former home."
And it doesn't have to be outrageously priced, notes Johnsen, a third-generation ALF operator whose family pioneered the contemporary congregate community model.
The median price for a private, one-bed home in an ALF community is $42,000, he says, citing the CareScout report. By contrast, a semi-private nursing home bed costs a median $77,000 a year.
But it's up to prospective residents and their families to ascertain the quality of the community and whether it's a good match for the person who will be living there.
"ALFs are not federally regulated and states vary widely on the breadth of oversight they provide, so you can't necessarily rely on the law," Johnsen says. "And don't rely on salespeople either – that's the biggest mistake people make."
There are, however, a number of easy ways to see if a home has a truly caring atmosphere and well-trained staff.
Johnsen offers these tips:
Ask to see the home's state licensing survey, an assessment that usually includes inspections, audits, interviews with residents, etc.
Every state has an ALF licensing agency and all have some form of survey system for ensuring that certain standards of quality are met, according to the Assisted Living Federation of America.
"Requirements vary from state to state about how often the surveys are conducted and how the public can access the reports, but no matter what state you live in, you should be able to ask the ALF for its most recent report, or obtain it from the licensing agency," Johnsen says.
The surveys will tell you if problems were found – or not – and what the ALF did to address them.
Visit the ALF during non-business hours.
Go before breakfast or after dinner – times when the administrators aren't around. What's the atmosphere? How do employees behave with the residents?
"That's a good time to talk to residents, too," Johnsen says.
Be a "mystery shopper," he suggests. Pretend you're just visiting the community – not scouting it out as a prospective customer.
Ascertain how truly "homelike" the community is.
In your own home, if you don't feel like eating breakfast at 7:30 a.m., you don't have to. You can have breakfast at 10. You can get snacks when you want them.
"Depending on what's important to your loved one, there are potentially many rules that can affect how 'at home' a person feels," Johnsen says. "Some communities allow residents to have pets, others don't. Some provide lots of activities. At some, residents can quickly and easily arrange for transportation or a service like hair styling."
Not every community can offer everything, he notes. That's why it's important to look for those features that are especially important to your loved one.
[Peder Johnsen is the CEO of Concordis Senior Living, www.concordisseniorliving.com, which owns, operates and develops senior housing communities. He's a third-generation assisted-living specialist whose grandfather and father built one of the first contemporary-style ALFs in Florida more than 30 years ago. Johnsen took over administration of two small facilities at age 18. Today, he specializes the full spectrum of ALFs – from "ALF lites," where most residents live very independent lifestyles but know assisted-living services are available if they should need them, to homes specializing in care for residents with Alzheimer's and dementia. He is an industry leader in staff development and training, and has overseen the development, acquisition and financing of several communities.]