(This is the second half of my most recent blog post. Read Part I)
- Get yourself a spiral notebook
(A memo pad or journal will work, too–whatever suits your style–just so long as you keep it handy.) Use it to jot down questions you’d like to ask the head of marketing during your tour. (It’s important to remember that this person is trying to close a contract.) Whenever something comes to mind, write it in your notebook. Ask for an appointment time which coincides with a meal, so that you can not only taste the grub but also see how the residents take to it. Do they get to plan their own menus? What if your parent has dietary restrictions (medical or religious)? What if Mom is under the weather and can’t get out of her apartment for a meal? Will someone be available to bring it to her? Is there 24-hour access to a physician? Who dispenses medication, and what’s the process to ensure it’s done in a timely and safe manner? Speaking of assistance, the staff—from janitorial services to front desk to kitchen to counselors—are the frontline, day to day faces your mom or dad will see. A smile, a nod, a greeting, etc., these small acts of kindness make all the difference in another person’s life. Greet all the staff members you see with a smile. What reaction do you get? If you’re able, break away for a moment and ask about their job satisfaction. “Would you bring your mother here?” is the perfect question to ask any residential employee.
- Keep your eyes peeled during each tour, taking notes during the process
Look past the décor (good or bad) and consider the more important elements, including cleanliness (of the property and the residents), safety and security. Make certain that you’re shown both the common living areas and the residential apartments/suites. Is this a place that is aging-friendly—are there grab rails on all common walkways and hallways, are the toilets built up for safety, is there wheelchair access to all common areas, is the carpeting short and tacked down in doorway thresholds, etc.? Engage with a resident or two, and ask about their experiences. Are there activities for them to enjoy? Again, surreptitiously check residents’ grooming while you’re at it. Are nails and hair clean and neatly shorn? Are they wearing bathrobes, or comfortable clothing in the middle of the day? Is their clothing all rumpled, or cleaned and pressed? There are clues hidden clues everywhere.Once you’ve completed the bulk of the work, you should be able to narrow down your list to just a couple of properties.
It’s time to revisit the places you feel could be the best fit for your parents and your own family; only now, you want to meet with the director of the facility, or with someone as close to the top of the administration as possible. You want to know who’s taking care of your family member in the event there’s a problem. Feel free to ask about the employee vetting process–what kind of medical qualifications do the caretakers have, if any? Are they contractors or are they employees of the business? Most important of all, on your own, assess whether or not they seem to be happy employees. Arranging this visit during a group activity or another meal will allow for the casual atmosphere it takes to truly and observe.
- The nitty-gritty
Don’t sign any legally-binding contracts without having them first reviewed by a lawyer. The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys is a specialty association, consisting of lawyers whose mainstay is eldercare and disability rights law. The website can direct you to one of these lawyers by using a geographical search. Along the same line, you’ll want to check into any potential complaints lodged against the properties you’re considering signing with. To do so, contact your state’s long-term-care ombudsman, whose job it is to act as an independent resident advocate. He or she can tell you whether any complaints were lodged, and if so, how they were handled.
At this or any time, you’re going to need support. You may even be tempted to submerge yourself entirely in the matters associated with moving your aging parent into a retirement facility, cutting off other forms of helpful social contact. I’ve been helping families like yours for years now, and I can help guide yours through the maze of this and other life-altering eldercare stages.
As always, I’m here to support you. Please get in touch.
All my best,
Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.