10 Questions to Before You Choose an Assisted Living Facility or CCRC

Selecting a Facility : 10 Questions to Before You Choose an Assisted Living Facility or CCRC

Buyer's remorse is always painful. Unfortunately, making a bad decision is even difficult when you are older and have less time and energy to recover from it.   Choosing an assisted living facility or Continuing Care Retirement Community is one of the most important decisions you will ever make - so it is critical to ask the right questions and then make a smart decision.

Sometimes people who are contemplating entering an independent, assisted living, or CCR facility are so distracted about the decision to go, that they don't do justice to the due diligence that should go into deciding where they should go.  This article will review our list of the right questions to ask, and provide links to others.

If you need one fact to get your attention, consider that Erickson Communities, one of the largest provider of CCRCs in the world, went bankrupt in 2009.  That event meant that 23,000 retirees suddenly had to worry about whether their facilities might close, have to cut back services, or whether they might lost any refundable deposits they might owed. The U.S. Senate is having hearings starting July 21, 2010 on this issue: CCRCs- Secure Retirement or Risky Invesment?

Here are some of the top questions we think you should ask before you enter any CCRC:

1. What is the financial health of the facility? Demand to see ther financial reports and make sure they are in healthy condition.

2. What do a sample of the residents think about it? Spend some time there and interview people - are they happy there, have services been cut back, do management and residents get along

3. Does the facility have the right amenities for you? As you get older an 18 golf course probably isn't a priority. But a chipping or putting green might be. Likewise an indoor swimming pool might be. Is there someone on staff who runs excercise programs. How about a full-time activities director.

4. What transportation services are available? Ask how you would get to the airport, grocery store, pharmacy,  church,  funeral, hospital, doctor/dentist? How about to a friend's house. Policies vary - be sure what is included and what your options are if not provided.

5. What is the food like? Some people don't care about food, which might be good. But if you used to a high level of cooking you might be disappointed. Eat in the dining room more than once before you decide.

6. What are your buy-in options? It is sometimes hard to compare the apples and oranges from different facilities. Some places have rental programs. Others have a low initial fee but higher monthly charges. Some have higher entry fees but offer different scales of refunds. Under what circumstances and when could you collect your deposits (it is often when your unit is sold, a long time frame in the current environment). Your family and financial advisor should help you make the right choice for your particular situation.

7. What happens if you decide to move? You might realize you should have moved closer to friends or family. Or your wife dies and you want to move somewhere else. What  recourse and obligations would you have? Of course it's better to answer this question first: "Is this the best location for me to spend the rest of my life?"

8. What happens if you need extra care? You cannot research this area carefully enough. If you are in an independent living apartment and need someone to help bathe or shop for you - who can you use and what will you pay?  What if you can't live in that apartment and need to move to the assisted living or memory unit - are you guaranteed access, and how much will it cost? How will your fees change as your need for care changes? What happens if you become so ill you need long term hospital care of round the clock nursing assistance? Will you have to more, pay more,  or will you no longer be covered? Is Hospice care available in your area?

9. What is the vacancy rate? Be wary of a place with a long-term high vacany rate.  The expenses are probably too high to be sustainable by too few people.

10. What happens if the facility is sold or closed?  Of particular interest are any refundable monies you have paid in. But what if you are suddenly on the street with a serious long term health issue - that could be disastrous if you have no protection.

More.  This is our list of questions to help you get started. Your family, lawyers, and financial advisors will have more. Forbes also has a great list, "Eight Questions to Ask Before Before Buying into  a Senior Community".

For further reference:

GAO report on Continuing Care Retirement Communities

U.S. Senate Special Report on Aging and CCRCs