Thursday, May 12, 2016

How to be a savvy residential care shopper

Along with buying a new home come mounds of paperwork that must be signed. Most of us review documents in detail for accuracy and completeness because we recognize that we’ll be held to their terms and conditions. Some even hire an attorney to triple-check everything.

Do seniors or their loved ones take the same precautions when signing residential-care-facility contracts? Whether you’re the senior or the responsible party, the complex journey to entering a care facility can be daunting.

So many of the activities along that path are emotionally challenging: accepting that living on your own is no longer the best option, saying goodbye to cherished household items, selling your home, finding the right facility to live in, leaving neighbors and friends, parting with a beloved pet. With all that to deal with, it’s easy to see why we may be tempted to simply sign the contract as quickly as possible.

However, reviewing the contract is a vitally important step in the process. Here’s why:

The contracts of some facilities consist of 50 or more pages written in legalese. They may include nonrefundable move-in fees, third-party guarantor provisions, discounted daily rates for guaranteeing a one-year stay and binding-arbitration clauses.

I recently met a woman who felt a residential facility’s care for her mother was negligent and had contributed to her mother’s pressure sores, resulting in a month long hospitalization. She wanted to sue the facility but later realized she’d signed a binding arbitration agreement that prevented her from filing a lawsuit.

It’s my experience that the majority of residential-care facilities in our area are well run and have the care of the senior as their top goal. Nevertheless, being well informed and diligent in your search for the right facility is critical, and ensuring seniors’ rights are protected in the contract is vital.

Most seniors and family caregivers are unaware of the resources that can help them to be savvy shoppers when it comes to residential care. California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform offers fact sheets, listings of all residential-care facilities, resources and cautionary tales and advice on their website,

The local Long Term Care Ombudsman’s office offers confidential and free preplacement counseling, performs unannounced visits to facilities and investigates complaints. While this program is offered in both Los Angeles and Ventura counties, what makes Ventura County’s program outstanding is its facility visitation plan.

The federal mandate governing the Ombudsman program nationwide requires only one annual visit per facility. In Ventura County, program volunteers visit all skilled nursing facilities a minimum of once a week and all assisted-living facilities a minimum of once a month.

Another resource to consider is a local residential-care placement agency; just be sure you pick the right one by doing your due diligence. These agencies operate like Realtors, getting to know facilities just as a real estate agent would get to know neighborhoods in a community.

They gather an understanding of your needs, requirements and wishes, then selecting several facilities for you to visit and consider. Sometimes they bill themselves as a free service, but typically they’re paid a referral fee by the facility you choose.

When considering an agency, ask how many residents they place in a month and whether they accompany families on visits to facilities. This will give you a good idea of the frequency of their visits to facilities in the area.

At Senior Concerns we advise people not to use web-based residential placement agencies as they are primarily call centers, not familiar with our local landscape. Often they will use your name with facilities without doing any work as a way to garner a referral fee should you choose that facility.

Skilled-nursing facilities are indicated when long-term medical care is required. Assisted-living and residential-care choices are varied and range from small six-bed homes to large all-inclusive care communities. More so than in nursing homes, the care provided by residential-care facilities is governed by the contract you sign with the facility.

Everyone considering moving to such a place should treat this transaction with the same level of importance they would a home purchase. Time and energy up front can prevent a world of complications later on.


Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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