What are some things that should be considered BEFORE moving into a retirement community?
The brochures and websites are lovely – a healthy senior couple, white hair perfectly in place, wearing sporty clothing and (take your pick) – playing tennis, swimming or taking dance lessons in a sun-filled ballroom. However, before you sell a house and move to a retirement community, there are many questions to ask, and often, some hard choices to consider.
First, what kind of community do you need now, and what kind of community will you need soon, or the distant future? A healthy couple right now may want to live in 55+ only “lifestyle” community, thinking they will escape the screaming kids next door or the accountant across the street with a mid-life crisis and his and her Harleys. However, when one or both of you experiences a health challenge, will you be near your doctors, or any health care facility? Remember that the over 55 age requirement limits the pool of potential buyers the property is placed on the market.
Next, what if you need on-site health care? There may not be a doctor or even an EMT on premises, unless you are in a continuum of care community, which provides lifestyles from independent living to hospice care and all the stages in between. If there is no care on site, the local fire and rescue department may be your emergency medical team. If there is no hospital nearby, what will happen when time is a life or death factor in a health crisis?
Is the retirement community adequately staffed; do staff members appear happy and friendly? We recently walked through a building in a large community and were greeted with a smile by every single member of a well-trained and large staff population. After you go on the tour, take a walk on your own. Do you see staffers interacting with residents? Are they smiling? Ask what their staff retention rates are. The sales team may not know, so you must dig a little deeper, but it will be important information. A well-trained staff is almost always a sign of a well-run facility.
What does the physical property look like, once you get past the warm and cozy lobby? Are hallways well lit, entrances clear of any clutter, is signage for various activity centers clean and updated? We are a stickler for clean and brightly lit hallways, smart touches like small tables and chairs easy to get in and out of near the elevators and little shelves near the doors of apartments to hold packages or a handbag while finding a key. If the hallways are dark and dreary when you take a tour, we suggest exiting quickly. It is not likely to improve.
Do you understand the costs and charges, and are you prepared for increases as they come along? When you or an elderly parent is in a hurry to move in, there is a tendency to gloss over the fine print. Anticipate changing circumstances, increases in costs and fees and the need for additional services. What is the cost if you need a home care aide for short or long term? Will you be required to work with an agency that has a relationship to the facility, or can you select your caregivers? How much flexibility is there in the contract?
Can the facility send you or your loved one packing? If a resident becomes ill and the level of medical care they need exceeds what the community can offer, will they have to leave? Sometimes there are personality clashes with neighbors – could social problems cause a member to be asked to leave? Is there a means of appealing that decision? Moreover, if the real estate market is depressed, will the facility make up for any losses when the sale is due to a forced sale?
Finally, make sure it is clear on who is responsible for payments. An adult child who signs as a guarantor will be financially responsible if the parent cannot make payments. Read the fine print, and consider taking the contract to your Elder Law Attorney for a detailed review to ensure that all parties understand their responsibilities, at the time that the contract is being signed, and in years to come.
Like any other large life-changing decision, speak with family and friends, do your research and don’t be afraid to ask hard questions before choosing a retirement community.
Stephen J. Silverberg, Esq., CELA
Law Office of Stephen J. Silverberg
Roslyn Heights, New York