Q. I live in California and have a formerly independent, elderly father in Tamarac, who is deteriorating following a mild stroke and is becoming an increasing burden for his partner, who lives with him. He has an extensive support network of friends in South Florida and doesn't wish to relocate to California, where my brother and I could more easily support him. I need to find an assisted living facility (ALF) for him in the Tamarac area. I certainly intend to travel to Tamarac and inspect the facilities personally, but it would help me a great deal to have a starting point.
Is there an online resource where I could read reviews of the available facilities and then obtain as much advance information as possible? This way my trip to Florida would be as fruitful as possible.
A. I would strongly advise you not to rely upon reviews that are posted online nor websites that aggregate listings of ALFs. This is too important a decision to base on others’ opinions that may not be authentic, or are written by someone whose parents’ needs and personality are completely different from your father’s.
Also, you should be aware that some online resources display only those ALFs that they have contracts that stipulate payments for placements, or qualified leads. Thus, the facility that is best suited for your father may not even be included in their lists.
Assisted living facilities vary in the types of services they offer and the residents served. That’s why it’s important to begin your long-distance research by talking directly with the manager of each facility you have identified in the area you are targeting. After describing your father’s health status and care requirements, they will let you know if and how they can accommodate him with the level of attention that he needs.
Once you have prequalified these facilities, the next step is to make an in-person visit, which will quickly reveal if a particular facility is a good fit for your father. You’ll also have a chance to observe and talk with current residents. Their comments will be certainly be more meaningful to you than anonymous postings online.
If you don’t have the time or inclination to research ALFs as thoroughly as is necessary, I suggest working with a trusted resource in the area, such as a geriatric care manager, or a senior placement professional who is familiar with all the facilities and who can guide you objectively to the one best suited to your father. One caveat: make sure you understand their relationships — if any — to the facilities.
If you think your due diligence is completed at this point, you are mistaken. You must confirm that the facility is licensed by the state and has performed well on state inspections. Once you’ve done this, you will have graduated to the second level of considerations in choosing an assisted living facility, which is to make sure that the ambiance of the community and the daily activities and services will make this a successful move for your father.
Nancy Stein, Ph.D., is the founder of SeniorityMatters.com, a local caregiver advisory and referral service for South Florida seniors and their families. You can contact her at nancy@ senioritymatters.com.