Questions to Ask a Retirement Community

Posted on August 2, 2018

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Morning Buzz by Kirsten Wyatt

Todays’ Morning Buzz falls squarely in the category of “News Your Can Use In Your Personal Life,” and is only tangentially related to local government. But I like to think that the ELGL family takes care of each other, and so I wanted to share this information that I’ve been compiling over the last few months – it might relate to you, a parent, or a family friend.

I’m really lucky and proud because I have a sister who is an elder care social worker. She describes herself like this:

I have a tremendous interest in working with older adults and their families. My time working in long term care and studying Gerontology at Georgia State University has taught me how to recognize and work with the unique needs specific to older adults.

Since she was 16, she’s been working in service to older adults, starting as an aide and now in a senior leadership capacity. Her service to others makes me incredibly proud.
And, it’s really useful to my family, because I can’t watch the first 20 minutes of “Up” without bawling my brains out – people aging makes me sad and I’m so glad that people like my sister exist to help people like me learn about the unique needs of older adults.

Like many of you, my parents are at an age where they’re leaving their home, and moving into a continuing care retirement community (CCRC). Thanks to my sister and her advocacy, they’re totally comfortable with the CCRC concept. And, I am too: it’s like a giant college dorm, except for old people. I’m a little jealous that I can’t move in with them.

Kent and I are also lucky to have a “bonus dad” – a dear friend who is the same age as our parents and has entrusted us to work with him as he ages and figures out what’s next for him.

Thanks to my sister’s help, we’ve been able to navigate the CCRC world with my parents and our bonus dad. I’ve included below some of her guidance to us, in the form of a checklist of questions to ask if you or someone you love is looking at a CCRC.

But first, a key concept that I didn’t previously know about but is critically important:

The aging population is big business for some corporations and there’s a huge, critical difference between CCRCs that are run by corporations, and those that are managed by a not-for-profit board. It’s fairly basic once you think about it: do you want any profits earned by the CCRC to be returned to the residents, or to shareholders?

And so, all of the below questions are predicated on the idea that the CCRC is run by a not-for-profit, with a heavy emphasis on resident leadership. If you want more information on this concept, here’s a handy resource. If you’re considering a for-profit CCRC, you might need to add more questions about community investment and shareholder expectations and returns.

Here’s the list of questions that I found useful as starting points when you meet with a CCRC:

  • What is the average age of the residents?
  • What are your contract options?
  • How much of the down payment is refundable?
  • Are there health care cost discounts?
  • What are the available skilled nursing levels and ratios?
  • What is your turnover for your healthcare/skilled nursing staff?
  • Do you employ social workers on site?
  • What is the average tenure of senior leadership?
  • What is the leadership structure?
  • What are the various ratios of residents to staff?
  • What are the amenities? What costs extra?
  • Do you have resident councils?
  • How much money does it cost to get on the waitlist? What percentage is refundable?
  • Do you offer promissory notes during the period of real estate transactions?
  • Do you offer real estate assistance?
  • What is your pet policy?
  • Are there any religious affiliations or social policies to be aware of or adhere to?
  • What are the actuals and projections on fee increases?
  • What type of resident feedback forums are available?

In addition to these questions (which will likely kick start the conversations you need to have to truly understand and get a “gut feeling” about a facility), my sister also advocates to eat a meal or two there (“you don’t want to live in a place where you don’t like the food” is her wise advice) or even schedule an overnight visit (if it’s good enough for college, it’s good enough for a CCRC!).

Have you considered moving to a CCRC? Or have a friend or family member who has? What questions should we add to this list?

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