It doesn’t matter if you’re looking at independent living, assisted living, or skilled nursing, there are some things that are bad news in every community:
Lack of maintenance. Communities in financial danger or communities with incompetent management will sometimes postpone maintaining the property in order to save some cash in the short term. This is a bad idea, since small maintenance issues can grow quickly into large problems. If you see things like unkempt grass, out-of-order toilets, torn carpet, trash in the hallways, or other indicators of maintenance problems, you can bet that there are other things that are wrong that staff isn’t working to fix.
Bad odors. You might be tempted to forgive foul smells in a nursing home, but doing so is a mistake. The only aroma that you should smell in any retirement community is that from cleaning supplies or food service. Anything else is a sign that something is awry. Even nursing homes, where staff have to change adult diapers, should have measures in place to remove the soiled linens from the building. While there are exceptions to this rule, it’s generally a good bet to skip communities that have a foul smell in the air.
Ill-tempered staff. Regardless of wage rates and turnover, no one wants to live in a place where angry, unhappy people work. If you see any staff member lose their temper or lash out (especially if management is around to see the episode), see yourself to the door.
Thinly-stretched staff. There is a lot of staff turnover in the senior housing industry. For one, most people who work at retirement communities aren’t paid very much. They also do manual labor jobs like lifting patients or cleaning rooms. As competition has increased in the senior housing industry, managers are forced to cut wages and staffing ratios even more. That means that people burn out faster at their jobs.
Staffing ratios (the number of patients to one nurse) have been stretched in recent years due to market pressures. But, good communities will make sure that staff members aren’t overworked such that they can’t care for patients. So, if you visit a community where everyone always appears to be in a state of panic, consider other options.
Untrained staff. Unfortunately, staff in retirement communities need to know how to handle many different types of situations not normally experienced in other unskilled positions. When emergencies occur, untrained staff can be downright hazardous to themselves and to residents. Make sure to ask about the training and background checks that staff members receive prior to joining the community’s workforce.
Angry residents or families. While there will always be at least one resident who is not happy living in the community, pay attention to the attitude and demeanor of the folks who live on the property. If they’re not happy, then you probably won’t be happy either.
Please remember that it’s ok to listen to your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, then you’re perfectly fine to end the meeting and leave. Also, remember that your decision doesn’t have to be made in one day. Feel free to do multiple visits to the community. You can also request lunch or dinner with some current residents to get a feel for the place. Sometimes retirement communities will also offer you a one night stay in their guest suite to give you an idea of what it’s like to live there. Feel free to take them up on this offer and to get an idea for how the community functions on a daily basis.
Want to learn more about senior housing? Check out these other articles:
Pushing for a move to senior housing isn’t a good idea.
What is adult daycare?
How to “test drive” a community.
Pets and senior housing.
Paying for a CCRC.