Smiles are your first positive clue

Bonnie Sandler S.W., The Senior Times – November 2011

If you have been shopping for a senior’s residence, you probably know that many residences are not full to capacity. Some have waiting lists, but this is not the norm. What makes some residences successful while others struggle to reach capacity?

The bottom line is keeping a loyal and competent staff. I coach clients to speak to staff during visits and inquire about the length of their employment. If there is no long-term stability, it could be a red flag. Are staff easy to engage, do they converse in your language, are they comfortable speaking to you? Are they interacting with residents or focused on their task?

Staff who are dissatisfied because of low pay, poor working conditions or lack of appreciation by management may be frustrated. Rooms might not be cleaned properly, servers might be impatient and activities might not be interesting. Of greater concern is nursing staff who aren’t at their best. Are there enough employees to do the job, have there been staffing cutbacks? Residences in financial difficulty might reduce staff and services, so while they may be offering the best deal in town, be sure you are getting what you pay for.

I encourage clients to report to me the positives and negatives of their residence. Sometimes I am asked to intervene when clients feel they are not being heard or understood by management.

Don’t just meet with the leasing agent: Ask to meet with the head nurse, director and other people in key positions. When you buy a home, you hire a building inspector to study the house in a way that you are not able to. The inspection report may influence your decision to buy or not to buy. While we can’t compare the monetary investment of purchasing a property and leasing in a residence, in both instances you are searching for the right home. A second move is something we all want to avoid.

Don’t be shy, ask all the questions, do your own investigation. You may want to hire a professional who has extensive knowledge of residences and will guide you to ones that best match your lifestyle. Do your best to get a feel for the staff; after all, they will be the ones you will be dealing with on a daily basis. Find out who you would speak to if you had concerns and talk with that person to see whether you have positive chemistry.

Nothing is written in stone. While it doesn’t happen often, seniors who feel unhappy will make the move to another residence, this time wiser about what they want and need and better able to evaluate the match. Unfortunately, a move to another residence does pose a three-month penalty under Régie du logement regulations. These are rules I would love to see changed for residences, and seniors wanting to move out of their apartments and into a senior’s residence.

When you make a move, please remember to look for smiling staff.