Thursday, June 30, 2011

Eldercare Organizations: Consider a Not-for-profit for Your Aging Parent

I'd swear on a stack of Bibles. Not-for-profit eldercare organizations aren't perfect. After all, they're headed by fallible people.

Still, not-for-profits are worth considering for your aging parent's health care needs. Nationwide some 5400 such organizations deliver excellent retirement and assisted living, skilled nursing care, home care, etc. Since my entry into the eldercare field in 1994, I've worked for three not-for-profits. I've seen and applauded their good work.

What sets not-for-profits apart?

1. Corporate investors don't set the organization's policy. Rather, boards of directors, who are community volunteers with various areas of expertise, make the key decisions. Extra dollars go, not to stockholders or owners, but to improving staffing ratios, training employees and building innovative programs that make seniors smile. No wonder Consumer Reports recommends not-for-profit nursing homes over others when seeking quality care.

2. Not-for-profits are mission-driven and accountable to the community at large. Many are connected with a church or a hospital, and their responsibility to the community is well defined. Their tax exempt status presupposes the practice of "giving back." For example, in Everett, Washington, Bethany of the Northwest hosts an annual elder health fair for the city's seniors. In Seattle, Foss Home and Village, a nursing home and asssisted living facility, sponsors a countywide senior annual volunteer recognition. Another big plus: not-for-profits often sponsor benevolent funds for elders who run out of money. Many not-for-profits take Medicaid funding.

3. In general, not-for-profits have lower staff turnover. I've watched the organizations I've worked in do many things--big and small--to attract excellent caregivers and other employees and to keep them. In-services, scholarship opportunities and specialized training build staff morale and increase longevity. It's not uncommon for an eldercare worker to celebrate 25 years of service. That number is growing! Staff longevity builds confidence by the elders and families.

For more information on not-for-profit eldercare organizations, contact their national association, LeadingAge.

Not-for-profit eldercare organizations aren't perfect, but definitely worth your consideration. Have you had experiences--good or bad--with not-for-profits?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Eldercare Trend: Top Factors That Influence Your Choice of Retirement Communities

Shopping for a retirement community for your aging parent? As you weigh the factors involved in choosing this new home, the following key words may come into play. I've heard these again and again over the last 16 years.

1. Location. Does your parent want to live close to one child? Or somewhere between several children? And what about rural versus urban living? Consider these questions: Is your parent a city girl at heart? Or a died in the wool country boy? Still another factor for many elders is living close to their current physicians and hospital or to their church.

2. Affordability. For some seniors, the question isn't "Can I afford this community?" but rather, "Even if I have the money, do I want to spend that much?" I remember the words of one resident named Wallace, "It's important to be able to give my children a certain amount of money. At the end of the day, that's important to me." For those at the other end of the economic spectrum, a great option may be "affordable" senior housing, designed for elders with low to moderate incomes.

3. Comfort. Retirement communities are a little like going on vacation, or living in a dorm or sorority, except with no drunken parties. Meals are prepared, activities are planned, and life is simpler than it used to be. It's "Leave the driving to us." But within those parameters, there are many variables. If your parent enjoys dressing up for a steak dinner or equivalent virtually every night, he can opt for that lifestyle at some retirement communities. Or maybe he prefers wearing blue jeans and a golf shirt for his favorite meal of macaroni and cheese. That option is available, too, and all shades of in between.

4. Food. Some key issues here are: "Do staff assign seats to residents?" and "Is there one seating for meals, or can residents come and go during a certain time period?" Seniors often have strong options on both these issues. If you don't discuss these questions with your parent beforehand, you may hear his or her complaints afterward. Often they're not pretty!

5. Space. One size certainly doesn't fit all. One daughter was adament in her desires: "My mother has to have a studio. Anything larger would overwhelm her." We didn't have studios, so I referred her to the lucky retirement community down the street. Other space considerations: square footage, closets, outside access, storage compartments.

6. Activities. For many, the trips to museums, drives to the country and live music on site make their day. But not everyone is created equal! Weigh your parent's preferences against the community's activity schedule to see if it's a match.

Good luck in your search! This post didn't have the space to address the most important element in any retirement community: caring staff. More later.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Eldercare Tip: Ways to Cut the Cost of Retirement Living

Your parent lives in a retirement community. Chances are, once a year the dinnertime chatter erupts into a chorus: "How much will they raise the rent?" and "Can I still afford to live here?"

If your aging parent worries about running out of funds, she is not alone. Fortunately seniors can save money without giving up meals, housekeeping, transportation and activities--the main reasons they chose retirement living in the first place. Consider these tested ideas.

1. Ask to transfer to a smaller or cheaper apartment within the same community. Often building managers would rather keep a resident than spend time, effort and dollars to move in someone new. My friend Eleanor moved twice in seven years, first from two bedrooms to one after her husband's death. Later she chose a studio when her assets dwindled. Keep in mind the transfer option is not without sacrifice. Downsizing is difficult, but writing a smaller check each month can pay off in peace of mind.

2. Move to a retirement community with fewer amenities. If your parent enjoys cooking, for example, he or she can often save about $300 to $500 a month by moving to a retirement community offering one meal a day, rather than three.

3. Consider a lower priced retirement community. In Bellevue, Washington, where I work, independent retirement living can range from $1560 for a studio, one-meal program, to over $9000 for two-bedrooms with three meals.

4. If your parent is beginning to need services such as bathing, dressing and medications, a home care agency can help her remain in her retirement apartment. In our community, an independent resident can save $1000 or more a month by using home care instead of moving to assisted living. One caveat: if your parent needs staff support all day long, home care agencies will not save money over a transfer to assisted living.

Can you think of other money-saving ideas?
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