Positive Aging

The Right Questions to Ask Before Moving into Assisted Living

My grandparents were healthy, active, and extremely independent until the day my grandfather got lost on his daily jog through the park. My grandmother, 83, panicked when he didn’t arrive home at his usual time. A neighbor went out looking and, thankfully, found him safe, sound and very confused. Within a week she and my grandfather made the decision to move to an assisted living community. I sent them the following information, to help them prepare for their search.

Tracy Willis serves as Director of Corporate Development for Village Concepts. She is the founder of Village Concepts University, a lifelong learning program currently operating in several VC communities. An advocate for seniors for over 15 years, she also serves on the PAC Board of Directors for Washington Health Care Association.

Dear G & G,

Dad says you’ve decided to look for an assisted living community. I think that’s fantastic! You’re both so active, and simplifying life will free you up for the fun stuff! I know it can be a very confusing process and I wanted to give you a few tips to keep in mind as you start checking out places.

Comparing Communities

Just because they’re called assisted living doesn’t mean they’re all the same! Ask the following questions:
• What level of care do you provide? Ask to see a “Disclosure of Services” document, which outlines the services the community is designed to provide.

• Will I be charged for care I don’t actually receive? Some companies use “care levels” where you pay a certain amount even if you don’t use certain services. I prefer the model where you are charged only for services you receive.

• Do you have a Medicaid contract? This is an important one. You may be able to afford an assisted living community now, but if your needs increase so will your costs. If this happens, or if you simply outlive your savings (let’s hope not!), you don’t want to have to move. If you run out of money and qualify for Medicaid, and your community contracts with Medicaid, you can stay in the same place (as long as they can provide appropriate care). However, if a community does not have a Medicaid contract you may be required to move somewhere else. The problem is that many communities require a private-pay stay before they allow residents to convert to Medicaid; so it’s best if you start out in a place that offers Medicaid, just in case!

Referral Agencies

I heard through the grapevine that you were considering using a referral agency to help you find a place. Just be choosy about who you work with and the advice they give. Some agencies may seem helpful, but many of them earn a high commission from the community you choose, so they benefit from recommending places where they have contracts. I just want to make sure you’re not missing out on a more appropriate place because they don’t contract with whatever referral agency you use. Rather than use the sales people, you could just get someone to print out a list of local places, or I could do it and email it to you!

These are just a few things that came to mind. Hopefully they help you avoid some potential pitfalls. Good luck and congratulations on the new adventure!