Health Advocate Blog

Top 10 tips for choosing an assisted living facility

Searching for an assisted living facility for a loved one–an elder, a disabled child or any physically or mentally impaired person–can be a stressful process. Despite the extra help, security, and social perks that being in an assisted living facility brings, choosing to move a loved one to such a facility can be extremely stressful. You can make the decision easier by taking the time to learn about each facility you check out and find out what each has to offer, as well as by preparing for the costs associated with care. You want to ensure that they will get the best care possible, but you’re also aware that the costs can skyrocket rapidly. Making an informed decision will give you the peace of mind to know that your loved one is getting the best care possible. Carolyn Browne, R.N., B.S., M.A., C.C.M and Clinical Supervisor of National Accounts at Health Advocate Inc., an advocacy and assistance company that helps people navigate the healthcare system, offers her top 10 tips to prepare you to make the best decision in this trying situation.

  • Ask about the costs.  While you want only the best for your elderly loved one, you also have a budget. Will your state’s public programs cover the bill; does your loved one qualify? Or should you look into long-term care insurance to help offset some of the costs?
  • Find out what’s included in the monthly fee.  Add-on fees can add up quickly, especially if services are a la carte. For example, make sure the basic fee covers essentials such as three meals a day.
  • Inquire about the facility’s staff-to-patient ratio and the number of skilled versus non-skilled staff members.  How many registered nurses work in the facility? Is there an appointed medical director overseeing the care of all residents, and is there a doctor on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week?
  • Ask about the frequency of rounds made by the staff.  You want to make sure residents are well-supervised. Make sure to ask about the facility’s back-up plan if a staff member calls out sick.  Also ask about the evacuation plan in the event of a fire.
  • Find out who will provide medical care to your loved one.  Does the facility have a contract with a nursing agency or do they have licensed staff on hand to access residents’ medical needs? How often are care plans updated? Will your loved one have easy access to Medicare-approved services?
  • Inquire about the agency that oversees eldercare in your state.  Different states assign different agencies to oversee assisted living, typically Licenses and Inspections or the Department of Health. Check with the agency for information on the facility in question. When was the agency’s last survey–can you see a copy? Were there any complaints?
  • Ask about the person responsible for dispensing medications in the facility.  Ideally, an assisted living facility should employ licensed personnel to dispense medications. However, not all states require it. Find out about the qualifications of the person dispensing the medication and whether or not that person will be supervised.
  • Ask where residents with special conditions will be housed.  For example, has your loved one been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s? If so, you may want to see if the facility has a special, safe and secure wing for residents with that condition.
  • Request a copy of the facility’s activity schedule.  Do they have supervised activities in and out of the building? Will your loved one be physically and mentally able to participate?
  • Visit the facility unannounced.  The best way to make a decision is to see the facility for yourself. Are personnel there receptive to unannounced visits? If not, this could be a red flag.  If they welcome you in, ask for a tour, take notes, and meet with the staff.

It can be helpful to seek professional advice when taking on the task of finding assisted living serviced for a loved one.  Check to see if your employee benefits package offers any type of advocacy program like Health Advocate. Health Advocate members can call a Personal Health Advocate to help them better understand what questions to ask assisted living facility personnel and to learn about assisted living providers that might be a good fit for their loved one.  If you don’t have access to an advocacy service through your company, check out Health Proponent, a program individuals can use to access many of the same advocacy services that Health Advocate offers.