MOVING to a Retirement Community is a big deal… make sure you make the right choice!

I’ve been in the senior living sector for more than 25 years now; I’ve worked with countless seniors and their families who are making the transition into Long Term Care or a retirement home.  At one point in my career I oversaw more than 25 retirement communities, where it was my job to train, mentor and coach the leasing manager at each residence. The number one goal was always to increase occupancy.    

As more retirement homes opened, I observed seniors and families making choices based on great sales people, which is true of most industries.  A great salesperson can sell you anything right?  Reality is, that ‘sales’ is not the right word for a retirement home.  Whether it’s a retirement home or a Long Term Care facility, the move to one is a life transition, not a commodity transition like buying a car. The kicker is that, for many, they wait until moving is a necessity, crisis or emergency. Therefore they do not have the time to do the proper research.       

In 2012, I left my role as a Corporate Director of Sales to flip the side of the table and work for families instead of the retirement homes. I wanted to essentially share  my insider perspective and help families save time and make informed decisions…especially in crisis.   Solva Senior Living was born and remains the only local company where our entire team comes with experience working in seniors housing  and eldercare and none of our team is paid commission.  With this, there’s no agenda, just plain old information sharing to help you help your loved one. 

With that said, we do have some tips to share when doing your research.  In no particular order;

1 – Spend More Time – if you have more time, don’t make a decision based on a one hour visit. The sales team are trained to stage the tour so that it is the best possible first experience. Instead, have lunch, attend an activity, come back for another tour, maybe two.  This is a big decision so take your time.  

2 – Meet the Managers – you fell in love with the leasing manager but the reality is that when you sign the lease you will start a new relationship with the Director of Care and General Manager.  So, you should get to know them and how you like them, what their care philosophy is and how they approach that, before you sign up.

3 – Talk to the Residents – introduce yourself to the seniors in the lobby or as you pass them in the halls and see what they have to say.  From my experience most will not hold back.  If they are happy, smiling and engaged, that says it all!

4 – Talk to the Staff – same thing as above.  Do the staff look happy?  My professional opinion is happy staff = happy residents = happy families = full building.   When I was a Corporate Director, this was my mantra with all my buildings.  This is the gold standard in my books – but unfortunately it is not always the way.

5 – Ask about Qualifications – first you need to understand that there is no standard in staffing qualifications and not all offer the same staffing levels, experience levels or certifications.  It’s important to do your due diligence and ask what is the highest qualification in staff you have 24 hours per day (including overnight).   

6 – What are the staffing levels? – unfortunately just like above there are no standards in staffing levels.   This means  some homes offer a staffing ratio of 1-4 residents, whereas others, 1-12 residents.  It can vary from community to community.  It is important that more staff means more assisted living but if you were moving a loved one to an assisted living floor you should gauge / compare those staffing levels.

7 – Try the food. – one of the biggest complaints in a retirement residence is the food.  That does not mean that all food is terrible.  Instead it means that we all have different tastes and preferences.  Try out the food to see if it matches yours.     

8 – Try it out – retirement communities offer trial stays and you are certainly encouraged to try everything before you make a more permanent transition.  A trial stay typically means furnished accommodations where you simply pack a bag and go.   You need to try it out for a minimum of 14 days to really establish roots in the community and make an official decision if you liked it or not. Also, retirement homes may have a minimum stay requirement because of Covid so check if they will accommodate only a two week stay.

9 – Ask about the Move-In Plan – one of the biggest fears about moving into a retirement community is simply not knowing anyone. The fear of the unknown or the fear of being the new kid on the block.  I would ask if they have any programs to help integrate the senior.  Ask them to paint you a picture of what the first day and week would be like. It would be a great idea when chatting with residents to ask them what their first days were like.

10 – What can you expect from the nursing team once you move in? – for caregivers, this is the most important factor. You want peace of mind that your loved one is well cared for. Ask for the Resident Bill of Rights and what a Care Plan would look like for your loved one.  Also ask what you can expect communication wise going forward.  Do they host regular ongoing care conferences with the senior and family?  How will the family be updated of any changes or concerns with their loved one? Can you as a family member call for updates?