‘Gut,’ research valuable on hunt for assisted living

Dick Chamberlain of Huntley pushes his 91-year-old father, Chuck Chamberlain, down the hall June 27 of Forest Oaks Health Care Center in Crystal Lake. The elder Chamberlain moved from his home at the Fox Point assisted living facility in McHenry when medical issues made full-time nursing care a requirement.
Dick Chamberlain of Huntley pushes his 91-year-old father, Chuck Chamberlain, down the hall June 27 of Forest Oaks Health Care Center in Crystal Lake. The elder Chamberlain moved from his home at the Fox Point assisted living facility in McHenry when medical issues made full-time nursing care a requirement.

CRYSTAL LAKE – Chuck Chamberlain had to be persuaded to move into assisted living.

But with an artificial hip and on crutches, he and his wife, Joyce, needed help preparing meals and other day-to-day activities, said one of their sons, Dick Chamberlain of McHenry.

“They needed somebody to watch over them,” added Dick Chamberlain’s wife, Linda.

The Chamberlains started shopping around, looking for a place where they could bring their belongings – particularly important for Joyce, who had memory problems – and a place where they’d be comfortable and the staff was friendly.

They decided on Fox Point Independent & Assisted Living in McHenry, where the couple had their own apartment with some home care assistance for about two years.

But one Sunday afternoon while Chuck Chamberlain was reading the newspaper, he was in sudden, excruciating pain. A doctor at Centegra Hospital – McHenry told him he needed surgery immediately.

After that, he needed full-time nursing care, not the mostly independent-assisted living he had at Fox Point. He was on a feeding tube for more than a year.

The family started looking again, and Chuck Chamberlain eventually moved to Fair Oaks Health Care Center in Crystal Lake.

“This place is great,” he said. “They’ve got the finest help. It’s just great help. I can’t say a bad word about any of them. In fact, I call them my angels. I know they work hard. They’ve got a tough job. It’s not easy taking care of a bunch of old geezers.”

Knowing what to look for

The Chamberlains have been on the search multiple times, not just with their parents, but with their grandparents, too.

When they visited Fair Oaks, Dick Chamberlain said he just knew “in his gut” the care was good.

There are questions to ask and things to look for, but a lot of it comes down to that gut instinct, Fair Oaks administrator Joyce Surdick said.

“My advice to the family: You have to go in there and make sure it’s someplace you’d want to live,” she said. “It’s the best indicator.”

Families should look at the staffing ratio, atmosphere and whether residents appear clean and happy, Surdick said. All facilities that accept Medicare have to offer the same things, so it really comes down to where the family is most comfortable.

About two years ago, Dick Hattan, the director of development and marketing for Hearthstone Communities in Woodstock, had to find long-term skilled care for his mother in the Naperville area.

He decided to go on a visit on a Sunday afternoon because he knew management wouldn’t be there and figured he would get a better idea of what the place was really like.

Hattan recommended talking with family members who are there visiting and asking to see the book of Illinois Department of Public Health surveys kept at the front desk. It contains the findings from the department’s last visit and any violations.

These records also are available at www.idph.state.il.us/webapp/LTCApp/ltc.jsp.

Families should look for problems related to care – such as missed medications – or issues of dignity – including people not being called by their name or not knocking on doors before entering rooms, Hattan said.

Facilities that accept Medicare or Medicaid also are ranked at the Medicare Nursing Home Finder, www.medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare.

Rating systems have their flaws, Surdick said, because one thing – especially for centers with smaller populations – can send the star rating plummeting.

Surdick had to go through the process when her mother needed a nursing home.

“I lost all the administrative brain,” she said. “I just became a family member.”

How to pay for it

The cost of these communities can induce sticker shock, said Paula Skweres, a senior care consultant with Elderwerks. It’s not unusual to see $6,000 a month for long-term, skilled care.

The company walks families through the search process, providing them with questions to ask and connecting them with movers, financial consultants and estate sale planners as needed.

Medicare does not cover ongoing long-term care, only on a temporary basis after being released from a hospital.

Quite a few skilled communities will accept Medicaid, but many of these communities have a private-pay component, meaning the resident pays for a year or two before Medicaid can kick in, Skweres said.

She recommends looking into reputable, long-term care insurance.

That’s what the Chamberlains had.

While the financial side was still a concern, Dick Chamberlain said, their long-term care insurance meant that as long as they could prove a need for assisted living, it covered 60 percent of the cost.

“It’s a tough choice,” he said. “You know eventually the money is going to go.”

Levels of care

At-home care: Nonmedical home care providers come into the home to help with housework and personal care. Some providers also offer nursing services.

Assisted living: Depending on the assisted-living facility, the range of care a resident can receive varies. Some are mostly contained to light assistance. Others provide heavier care or have delved into memory care. The amount of care a resident needs affects the price.

Skilled care: Patients receive 24/7 nursing care unlike at assisted living where the staff isn’t necessarily certified.

Tips for visiting

• Is it clean? Look into corners, baseboards and windows. Ask how often housekeeping comes.

• Are there any smells? Ask what caused them because it could indicate a problem or a one-time incident.

• Check the event calendar and see how well the events are attended.

• Watch how staff interacts with residents. Do they listen and make eye contact? Do you feel welcome?

• Look at the residents. Do they look clean and well-groomed?

• Check into safety measures. What happens if there is an emergency? How does a resident contact staff if something happens in their room or apartment?

Source: Elderwerks

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