The Top 5 Questions to Ask Retirement Community Residency Counselors

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By Brenda Becker

Your family has been encouraging you to consider to a retirement community; your neighbors recently moved; and now, you’ve received an invitation in the mail from that beautiful community you’ve always wondered about.  Making the decision to finally visit a retirement community can often be a big decision, in and of itself.  Determining which community will be a good fit to live in, takes planning, preparation and an open mind.

If you’ve ever visited a college campus with a prospective student, you know it’s easy to be impressed by the admission department’s presentations. Glossy brochures, enthusiastic student tour guides, and professionally created videos all highlight what the university has to offer.  Serious students study the course offerings, degree programs, faculty experience, post-graduation employment rates, etc. based on their own personal interests.

Prospective residents of a retirement community should also draft their own list of criteria.  Equally important, is creating a list of questions that will enable the visitor to fully understand the community’s offerings. While most look similar on the surface, there are important differences between senior living options.  In this article, we’ll focus on continuing care retirement communities, or CCRCs, because they have the most to offer and also have the most detailed contracts.

CCRCs provide all levels of care on the same campus (and by the way, the use of the term ‘campus’ is not the only similarity between colleges and CCRCs).  Here you’ll find independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing care, and usually memory care. When health care is needed, it is convenient and less stressful to move to another location within the same community than to move across town to an unfamiliar facility.

In addition to healthcare, CCRCs offer dining services, fitness facilities, educational programs, housekeeping and maintenance services, and unlimited opportunities to engage in social activities. During a tour of the community you will see and hear about many of these wonderful amenities.  Depending on your level of interest in the community, you will want to request time to sit down with the residency counselor to explore all facets of what the community has to offer.  Because health care can be such a large variable in the cost of living at a CCRC, you’ll want to understand exactly what is, and is not, included in the Residence and Care Agreement.  Among the most important questions you will want to ask are:

1.    What health care costs are covered by the Residence and Care agreement and what must be paid out-of-pocket?  CCRC Residence and Care agreements are regulated by the state of Maryland, however the details vary by community.
a.    How long can I concurrently occupy space in independent living and skilled nursing before paying an extra fee?
b.    How will my monthly fee change if I need assisted living or skilled nursing care?

2.    Is the entrance fee refundable and under what terms?
a.    How much will be refunded?
b.    When will it be refunded?

3.    What has the monthly fee increase been over the past 5 years?  How has the community assisted residents who’ve had difficulty paying higher fees?

4.    What was the suggested tax deduction allowance for medical care last year?

5.    How is the community managed?
a.    What is the experience and tenure of the top executives?
b.    Are residents involved in decision making?

There are, of course, many more questions to ask and things to understand before making such a significant decision, but this is at least a start.  Ask every community you visit the same questions.  Compare all the answers, and then determine which community best fits your needs and interests.  Just as important however, is to let yourself feel which community is the right fit. Considering everything together will increase your satisfaction with the community you ultimately choose.

Brenda Becker is the owner and founder of Top-Drawer Resources, a research and consulting practice that connects families with high quality senior services providers.

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