By Holly Riddle
If you’ve been keeping up with our senior living series, then you already know about the state of senior living in Happy Valley, the evolving demands of seniors and how cost is a big factor. It’s no secret that senior living and care is big business for the region, too, with new facilities opening and, as of last week, Patton Township rezoning land to make way for a planned, affordable senior living housing complex.
While we spoke on all of the above with our range of industry experts and leaders throughout Happy Valley, we asked them for a little advice, in addition to just the facts. For seniors and families of seniors just now considering their care options, what do they need to know? What should they consider as they shop around for a senior living facility?
Here's what the experts had to say.
Location, location, location
According to Mark Sapko, owner of Senior Living Placement Specialists, which helps regional seniors and their families find the best living facilities to meet their needs, one of the first things seniors should consider when choosing a care facility? Location, location, location.
He told us, “If they want to be in State College and still be on a bus route and closer to family, location is always important. [Then there’s] room type. Most facilities, nowadays, especially with [Covid-19, don’t have] shared rooms. Most individuals have a single room… Make sure there are showers in each room and they’re handicap accessible. [Make sure] the community is a place they can age in place when their needs progress, and that they can still live in the same room and community, and the facility can meet those needs. Also, different social activities… I would say every facility in State College and Centre County tries to make [the facility] feel like home for the individuals, that they’re not living in a ‘facility,’ but as part of a community and this is their new home.”
Jennifer Getgen, executive director at Juniper Village Senior Living at Brookline, mentioned many of the same considerations, including location, continuing care and amenities. She also, however, pointed out that seniors will want need to consider two other factors: pet policies and cost.
On the former, she said, “Pets are very important to our seniors and the thought of having to leave them behind may prevent them from transitioning. Ask about the community’s pet policy and if the furry friends can transition with them through the different levels of care.”
For the latter, she posed, “Will the senior community living expenses fit within the budget? You will want to find out if there are entrance fees involved. Senior living communities offer rental options or a varying fee structure, and some offer benevolent care after resources are depleted. Gain as much information as you can about the costs of living in the community.”
I would say every facility in State College and Centre County tries to make [the facility] feel like home for the individuals, that they’re not living in a ‘facility,’ but as part of a community and this is their new home.
Along the lines of costs, Foxdale Village’s Lisa Harrington, director of residency planning and marketing, noted, “Take into consideration whether the community you're looking at is for-profit or nonprofit. What happens if you outlive your assets? If the actuaries tell us you're going to be around until 92, but now you're 102… what happens in that community if something like that happens?”
Where to start
Of course, the first place to start looking for a senior living facility, for many seniors and families, is with a simple online search. Some care facilities, however, make finding information about their offerings easier than others. Whereas some rely on a sales technique that requires potential residents to reach out for valuable information, others realize that this is a barrier that can prove frustrating, and even deter a potential resident.
At Presbyterian Senior Living, which oversees multiple properties in the region, including Westminster Place in Huntingdon and Windy Hill Village in Philipsburg, Kristin Hambleton, vice president of sales and marketing, said, “We have worked diligently to unburden people, by giving them the information they need as quickly as we can get it to them.”
This unburdening occurs in the form of the organization’s online Waypoints Learning Center, filled with resources, from blogs to checklists, that help seniors, family members and caregivers begin their search for a senior living facility.
“We really want to provide you with the education and resources for you to make an informed decision about what's best for you,” Hambleton said. “A lot of organizations gate their content and force people to turn over their email address, phone number and information in order to get educational material about senior living. We don't do that. I believe in giving the consumer all of the information they need to make an informed decision, including the pricing… Our pricing is right there on the website. Not a lot of senior living communities do that, but we do.”
Once seniors have identified possible options, scheduled tours are typically the next step.
“Go visit the community and feel the atmosphere,” suggested Getgen. “Maybe consider a short-term stay to see if it would be a good fit. Touring the communities and getting a feel for what it would be like to live there will ease the fear of the unknown. Can you picture yourself living there after the visit? Were the staff and other residents friendly? Do they offer amenities that align with your interests? Does it feel like home?”
Some suggest stopping by unannounced for a tour, in an effort to “catch” the facility with their guard down, but Foxdale Village’s Megan Clouser, director of health services, says this isn’t necessary. “We don't have time to fake it. Dropping in unexpectedly means there might not be somebody there to show you around, and it's not for lack of wanting to, so please call ahead,” she cautioned.
Additionally, consider talking to the facility about their cost options and how seniors can finance the next step of their lives.
When should you start?
All of the experts we spoke with seem to agree: the earlier you can start a senior living facility search, the better. Some facilities have wait lists that are years long, and the longer you wait, the more likely it is you won’t get into the facility you want.
Sapko said, “If anyone's having appointments with estate lawyers or discussing their future wishes, that's a good time to have this conversation [about senior living facilities].”
Hambleton added, “It's like buying a house. You don't just look on the internet and say, ‘I like that house’ and buy it. You're searching for something that's going to meet your whole life and your future… You want to find an apartment or cottage or villa that really is something that you love and you're going to love living in for 10 years or so. You want to find a community that resonates with the lifestyle you're seeking.”