How To Pick an ALF: Keeping Mom and Dad Safe
As many of you already know, our law firm represents the families of elderly and disabled persons that have been injured, and in some instances died, because of injuries or neglect at the hands of assisted living facilities or nursing homes. This area of our practice is particularly sensitive to me since, prior to my father’s passing, I had no choice but to elicit the help of an assisted living facility and ultimately a nursing home for his care. Because of our perspective we only see and deal with cases where tragedy has befallen someone, and unfortunately we have made claims against some of the largest and most prominent facilities as well as some of the most obscure which made me even more apprehensive about the decision I was obliged to make.
So what do you do? How do you know where to send mom and dad? In my quest to make sure my father was safe I looked back at the cases we had filed and I determined the underlying principles of a good facility are relatively the same across the spectrum: attention and staffing are paramount. Here are some suggestions for you to consider while making this very difficult decision.
- Visit the facility you are contemplating unannounced: Of course a facility visit that is scheduled is going to run like a Swiss clock. Everyone’s going to be clean and happy (or medicated) when you arrive. Of course they want your money, and normally a lot of it, so they will put their best face forward. But what happens when you are not there? What happens when they are not expecting you? These are the questions you need to know the answers to. By arriving at a facility that you’re contemplating unannounced you will see the real face and character of the facility. Look to see if it is clean. Talk to some of the residents. Are they happy? Do they seem disgruntled? Look at the staff. Is the staff moving with a purpose or does there appear to be a sense of disorganization and indifference.
- Look up the facility you are contemplating for their violation history: Most people don’t know this but at regular intervals a nursing home or assisted living facility will have an inspection by the state. All of the results of those inspections are posted on the state’s website at www.floridahealthfinder.gov/facilitylocator/facilitysearch.aspx. Take the time to look up the facility. Go back into their history. Now I’m not suggesting that any facility that has a violation is bad, on the contrary, you anticipate that an inspection is going to yield something but rather, look to see what that “something” is. Do they frequently leave the security doors unlocked in the memory care unit? This is bad. Do they have multiple multi-thousand-dollar fines assessed against them for failure to monitor patients? Also bad. Again, I know the marketing materials are going to be pretty and happy. The key is to find out what’s going on when the inspector shows up.
- Pick the right facility for your loved one: Needless to say just because a facility is small does not mean that it is not capable of providing excellent care. Conversely, just because a facility is very large does not mean they’re not capable of providing excellent care. The key is to identify what facility will best suit your loved one’s needs. In the case of my father, he was not particularly social, and after my mother’s passing did not make efforts to engage other people. Because of this, I needed a facility that was small enough to not overwhelm him but still had enough activities to keep him engaged. On the other hand, some people are very social and active and would prefer to be in a larger facility where there are not only a number of other residents to spend time with but that also provide activities and amenities that will keep your loved one engaged in their new surroundings.
- Visit often: I cannot stress to you that there is no guarantee that a facility is doing the right things. Therefore, the only way to protect your loved one is to make sure that you put your eyes on them and you do so often. I have found that the best way to do this is to have family members visiting the facility at staggered schedules. Again, everyone expects that people will visit their loved ones on Saturday morning and Sunday after church. What I suggest is go during the week after work, stop in on a lunch break or sometimes in an early morning. If you are blessed to have siblings and children that are capable of making visits have those people make visits at staggered times. It will always be a treat for your loved one to see friends and family unexpectedly and you will also demonstrate to the facility that your loved one is cared for. I promise you, the facility staff knows who has visitors and who does not.
The decisions we make for our parents are always the most challenging since most of us perceive our parents as capable and in control since they did, in fact, raise us, but this is the time that our parents need us most. A little bit of research will yield tremendous information that will help you accommodate your loved ones in a place where they can thrive safely with security.