Shopping for an assisted living facility

Dad's final (I hope) address
Dad’s final (I hope) address

When you are dealing with a sudden crisis, like a fall or, in my case, a cross-country move, time moves in lightening fast mode. You have to, very quickly immerse yourself in what an assisted living facility offers, how different they are one from another and hone in on exactly what YOU are looking for…all the while understanding that you will never find everything you want in one place.  There will be a bit of self-talk where you negotiate with yourself over this and that, and in the end, you will feel as if you are putting your parent in the best place available to you.  That last sentence is critical, because where you WANT your parent to go isn’t necessarily where they will ultimately be able to go.  Many things go into this decision and not all of them are yours.

My dad had to be evaluated by the facilities we were considering (all of them doing so, long distance).  Long distance evaluation automatically builds in a very conservative approach by the facility doing the evaluating because no one wants to say “yes” to your parent and then when they arrive, find out they really can’t meet their needs.  There really isn’t a substitute for in-person evaluations so if you are working with a facility with a national footprint, they may be able to send someone to see your parent from a nearby facility.  Push for this if it’s available as that is the only realistic way to get an accurate evaluation.

What I will say is Sunrise of Paoli evaluated my dad over the phone and took a risk on bringing him to their facility.  They have been very good at working with me all along the way, to make sure my dad’s needs have been met and never once gave me an indication that they mis-evaluated him.  I never felt that he was at risk of being shipped to a nursing home (which is the next step).  Sunrise’s philosophy is more of an “age in place,” meaning that unless he needed a durable piece of medical equipment like a ventilator or respirator or feeding tube, he could stay here.  I took comfort in that because my dad’s living will stated that he wanted none of that anyway. So if we got to that point, I would call in hospice.

The journey to finally settle on Sunrise was a very speedy evaluation of about 7 other types of facilities.  It involved taking tours, talking endlessly on the phone with sales directors….all in the course of about 7 days because the rehab facility my dad was in gave me about one week notice that he was being discharged, so I had to move fast. Best advice….start thinking about this stuff BEFORE you need it, so you don’t feel pressured to make a fast decision, as I did. Other piece of advice….don’t wait until a crisis to move your parent closer to you.  Even if they don’t want to move, if they have assigned you as their health care proxy, you need to have them close by to do that job effectively.  Don’t wait until they are so frail that a move becomes impossible or difficult.

Back to the facility. There were ones I liked a little better, but at the end of the day, Sunrise was the only place that would allow what’s known as a “two person transfer.”  A two person transfer means that an individual needs two people to help him/her get out of a chair, into the shower, onto the toilet.  Apparently, this is a biggee.

In Iowa where my dad was living, once you were a two person transfer, you had one choice:  nursing home.  I refused to allow that, which is why I moved him to Pennsylvania, not only because he’d be close to where I live, but also because the laws in Pennsylvania were different.  In this State, there are four levels of care, not just three as in Iowa.  In Iowa, there was independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing. Once you needed two people to help you, you ended up in skilled nursing. In PA, there is independent living, personal care, which is similar to assisted living in Iowa and then assisted living. Here, in assisted living, there are SOME (not all) facilities that will accept a two person transfer.  Sunrise is one of them.  Thank God.  Sunrise is a lovely community with really great staff and the environment is decidedly not institutional.  Are there things I wish were better?  Of course.  But overall, it has been a positive experience.  And the best part?  He lives a matter of blocks from me, so I can visit him and help on a daily basis without having to provide the bulk of his care, which at this point would be too taxing for me.

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