My client is one of a large number of siblings who were searching for a high end continuing care retirement community for their mother. Mom was in her early seventies, living independently, and driving. She owned a second home where she lived during the winter months. She could afford an entrance fee in the range of $800,000, and a monthly fee of $5,000 per month. The requirement expressed to me was at least 2 bedrooms, multiple dining venues with one being alfresco, room to entertain her friends, and a busy suburban setting. She needed to be able to reach one of the expressways and have access to the downtown Chicago area.
Her children had already chosen two places that they wanted her to seriously consider. My job was to identify a third option and compare their selections. I identified a third community that fit their requirements (one that would have been my selection for their mother). After dealing with my client, I found that the family was already leaning heavily towards one of the previously identified options. It was a newer community that fit all of their criteria, including every bell and whistle available to its independent residents (pool, masseuse, bar, postal service, concierge, health club). Those initial impressions had the family enamored. However, the community was not the real deal with regard to the advanced stages of care. Frankly, I felt the siblings’ decision had been made before I even began my work.
The daughter had made some comparisons of what the two places had to offer from an independent living standpoint. But, she failed to compare the communities from the viewpoint of location and layout, a compassionate staff, and what would happen if her mother needed more care down the road. Although I had been in all three of the communities, I set up appointments to “secret” shop them in order to fine tune my recommendations. I found that the family’s favorite community had some serious flaws behind its mask of sophistication. Here are some, just to name a few:
It was located on the corner of two horrendously busy streets that would be a challenge for any elderly driver. The entrance into the parking garage is a narrow gateway leading to a steep, downhill driveway into a very large lot with small parking spots. Although a valet was available, his or her help was not provided to navigate the difficult descent into the parking lot. The “salespeople” at the community didn’t have any experience in the elder care industry. All had held sales positions unrelated to the elder care industry. During my tour, there was a new resident whom we encountered 4 times wandering very confused from room to room. My salesperson didn’t stop to ask her if she needed any help, not did anyone else. I sensed a true lack of compassion that one needs when dealing with the elderly. The staff’s attitude is often a direct reflection of the care your loved one will receive.
This particular community had several hundred independent living apartments. Yet, their assisted living area had less than 20 rooms, and their skilled area had less than 40 beds. At this point, the assisted living and skilled areas were basically empty. (Note: You can only enter this community on an independent level and they don’t admit to assisted and skilled from the outside). When I asked the salesperson what was going to happen if their rooms/beds filled up in the future, she replied, “You know our sister community on xxxx street? The overflow will be sent there.” Note: The sister community is a very old facility that hasn’t been updated in many years. It is in an area that isn’t as aesthetically pleasant as the newer community. Now, can you imagine sinking $800,000 into an entrance fee and finding out later that you weren’tguaranteed a room/bed in the assisted living/skilled areas?
My choice for my client’s mother was in a community not far from the family’s first choice. The community has been in existence for over 100 years, and offers a choice of beautiful new and older independent living apartments. Its staff has extensive experience with caring for the elderly. There is little turnover. Their reputation for excellent care in the assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing areas is proven. The community is located in an area that is much less busy. It has many of the bells and whistles of the other options, but on a much more homey level.
So what happened in the end? I was placed on a conference call with more than a half dozen siblings shouting into one phone. Before I was even able to present my recommendation, they told me they were discounting it. “Why?,” I asked. The response was “Because it isn’t glitzy enough!” My concerns over the potentially unsafe location and parking basically went unheard. When I mentioned the situation about the staff expressing no concern over the new resident’s confusion, one sibling responded, “Maybe that’s not their job!” I corrected him and said that the phrase, “It’s not my job doesn’t exist when you’re working in a senior community.” However, the group did listen to and were livid over my findings about a resident being transferred to the sister community when the assisted living or skilled area were full.
What’s the moral of the story? If it were my mother, I’d choose better care and forget the glitz. It goes back to the truism that the aesthetics of a long-term care community are never a reflection of the care your loved one will receive. Your children or grandchildren shouldn’t trick or treat alone. You shouldn’t choose a long-term care community for your loved one alone either. It’s very scary out there. That’s where I can help.
* A Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) is a long-term care facility that offers multiple levels of care (independent, assisted living, nursing, and memory support) in one complex. Some require an entrance fee. Others contract with the resident on a month to month basis.
Contact Andrea Donovan to assist you with the overwhelming task of selecting the right Coninuing Care Retirement Community for your loved one.
Andrea Donovan Senior Living Advisors
361 Nuttall Road Riverside, IL 60546 708-442-7174 708-415-2934 (cell)