Value-Based Perspectives in Choosing an Assisted Living Community

Assisted Living communities are popping up all over the country. So many choices have made identifying the best value a real consumer challenge. All communities are attractive. All offer meals, house-keeping and activities. However, the philosophical focus of a community can mean the difference between simple maintenance and a comprehensive, proactive environment.

The most effective assisted living communities do much more than provide meals, housekeeping and bathing assistance. Choosing well and getting the best value requires that you ask additional questions.

Start with these:

Do they monitor residents’ health and well being, both physical and psychological?
Ask how. You want to hear that they have a case management system that starts with a thorough baseline assessment when the person moves in, and an individual care plan for building strength and managing chronic conditions. You want to hear that residents are reassessed frequently and that their individual programs are adjusted accordingly.

Do they encourage independence or dependence?
Expect specific answers that involve teaching the use of assistive devices and how to manage pain and chronic conditions. Listen for the philosophy that elderly people should be empowered to remain in control of their own lives. Avoid any place that seems to treat elderly adults like helpless children.

How do the residents feel about living there?
Are you permitted to talk with residents encountered during your tour of the community? Does the tour staff speak to the residents, calling them by name? Look closely at the exchanges between resident and staff. Talk to the residents about how long they have lived in the facility and what they like best or least.

Does the place look like a hospital or nursing facility?
Are there obvious nurses’ stations, medical carts in the halls, staff in white uniforms? Healthcare should be present and attentive, but almost invisible.

How much training do they give their direct caregivers, the people who give assistance with ADLs?
How much do caregivers know about symptoms of change, and about the psychology of community building and communications skills? Caregivers should go through intensive training at the beginning of their employment. They should have frequent on-going in-service training on a wide range of topics.

What is the staff turnover rate?
Can residents expect to be seeing familiar faces giving them care? Obviously, a place where staff members enjoy their work has a better emotional climate for residents as well. So look at the employees, and talk with them directly during your tour.

Discerning the value factor among a large number of facilities requires the smart consumer to rely on intuitive skills. These questions should help you focus on the essence of any facility. Look beyond the pretty interior to find that facility which most closely reflects and satisfies your perspective of the highest level of care and service for our highly regarded seniors.

Marie Sandvig, RN, MSN is Director of Clinical and Program Operations for RSI, Inc.’s Caring Community Program. She has been involved in elder care for more than 15 years.