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TEN TIPS

Assisted Living May Be Right Choice

BY LAURA T. COFFEY

Florida is home to more than 2,300 assisted-living facilities ranging in scale from small homes with fewer than six residents to full-service communities with more than 500 residents. These facilities make it possible for seniors to avoid the confinement and institutional nature of nursing homes. Here are some tips on making a choice:

1. NARROW THE POSSIBILITIES. Call the national Eldercare Locator toll-free at 1-800-677-1116 to be connected with your local Area Agency on Aging office, which can give you the names and locations of facilities in a given area. You also can use this online tool --http://faal.myflorida.com/ -- to search for licensed facilities in Florida.

2. TRY. THE LONG-TERM CARE OMBUDSMAN. Call toll-free 1~888-831-0404 to ask for inspection reports and complaint histories for the facilities on your list. You can learn more about the ombudsman program and residents' rights at http://ombudsman.myflorida.com.

3. KNOW WHERE ELSE TO CHECK. You also can request facility information and complaint histories from: Department of
Elder Affairs (http://myflorida.com/doea/ or toll-free 1-800-963-5337); Agency for Health Care Administration (http://www.fdhc.state.fl.us/index.shtml or toll,free 1-888-419.3456); and Department of Children & Families' Adult Protective Services division (http://www.dcf.state.fl.us/as/services.shtml or call the Abuse Hotline toll-free at 1-800-962.2873).

4. HIRE A GERIATRIC-CARE MANAGER. Such managers are social workers, gerontologists or nurses who can help you assess facilities and monitor care down the road. Your first assessment likely will cost $300 to $800, with hourlong sessions running about $100 to $150 after that.

5. VISIT YOUR TOP FOUR OR FIVE FACILITIES. Don't be overly distracted by opulent furnishings and lush landscaping. Instead, focus on interactions between residents and staff, which should be enjoyable and helpful; senior-friendly furniture and fixtures, or the tack thereof; and the cleanliness of occupied rooms.

6. CHAT ONE ON ONE.
Find out what residents and visiting relatives think of the staff, the food, the home and the activities.

7. GIVE THE PLACE A TEST DRIVE. Bring your relative for a visit and find out whether he or she could spend the night on a trial basis.

8. SIT DOWN WITH THE ADMINISTRATOR.
It should be clear that this person is competent and cares about the residents.

9. REQUEST KEY INFORMATION IN WRITING. Ask for involuntary discharge criteria for residents; details about staff levels and staff training and qualifications; the contract; medication policies; cost information; and specifics about different levels of care provided.

10. ASK PLENTY OF QUESTIONS. For example: What services are included " in the monthly rate? Is there a cap on how much that rate can be increased? What happens if the resident runs out of money? What options exist if the resident's health declines?

Sources: Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org); Florida Affordable Assisted Living (www.floridaaffordableamlst edliving.com); BuslnessWeek (www.businessweek.com).

           
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