Know Who Owns That Retirement Home!


From the Mouths of Professionals

In 1999, as our retirement and assisted living community was getting started, I was surprised by a suggestion from a local advertising salesperson. She said, “Be sure to mention that you are locally owned and operated. It makes all the difference.” Now, nearly ten years later, I know exactly what she was talking about.  In considering a retirement home, it is crucial to know who owns that retirement home.

Lessons Growing Up

I grew up around senior citizens in Chicago, where my parents were the proprietors of a senior care community. Under their tutelage, I learned first-hand what quality care looks like when it comes to our elderly population. And while my parents’ endeavors proved successful, they never considered their work a “money-making enterprise.” It was a calling of the heart, and a much-needed service. Their style was a hands-on, client-directed service and I have come to believe that this is the only way long-term care should be delivered. I strive every day to emulate my parents’ example in my own retirement community, but people need to know that the climate of senior care has dramatically changed since my parents were in business-and not necessarily for the better!

Market Trends

Today, senior care has become big business. With the aging of the “baby boomers,” people have recognized the profit-making potential of senior care. The trend has moved from facilities that are more intimately managed to communities that are owned and managed by large conglomerates who buy out senior care businesses and create chains scattered across the country. The problem is that management is so far separated from the day-to-day operations of the community that the human element tends to take a back seat to the importance of profits and the bottom line. Sadly, care is dictated not by the needs of the individual but by share-holders in some boardroom somewhere wondering about a profit/loss statement. But there is hope! The same baby boomers that have fueled the rise of these large corporations will save the day by demanding the kind of personalized, hands-on care they expect. This demand will cause the pendulum to swing back toward senior care as it should be-toward attentive, client-driven service!

Care: It’s Either Personal or It Isn’t

The truth is simple. More locally-centered communities can provide the human touch that no corporate conglomerate can ever offer. And that “special touch” shows up in life’s little moments. For example, if a resident needs transportation to outpatient therapy in the morning and to chemotherapy the next afternoon, the common industry practice of offering transportation only “once a week” is completely inappropriate. The only way I have ever known to do things is to meet the needs of my residents as they arise. That is what they expect. It is what their families expect. As the owner and executive director, I am solely responsible for the quality of care delivered in my community. If a resident needs help walking their dog because his Parkinson’s has flared up, we just do it. There are no corporate forms to fill out, nothing to sign (and no extra charges!). If a resident is craving ice cream at one o’clock in the morning, my staff will fix them a sundae. That is how my parents would have handled it. And to me, that kind of thoughtful, personalized care is the only way it should be done.

Continuity of Care

Consistency is a key element to providing quality care in a senior environment. That consistency is part of the “continuity of care” that depends, in part, on the continuity of staff in place at any facility. When communities are bought and sold over and over, the staff turnover is high and the quality of care inevitably suffers. That is why a well-established, locally-managed facility is most desirable to those seeking consistency of staff and consistency of care. The best example of how people feel about this kind of care was expressed to me by a doctor whose mother lived with us. He wrote, “It is such a nice feeling to come into a community and be greeted by the same administrator, the same caregivers, and so many of the same staff that I have known for years. This type of dedication is reflected in the outstanding excellent care your residents enjoy. Please keep up the good work!” These comments from satisfied family members are what keeps me going-and ultimately what keeps quality long-term-care communities alive.

Above & Beyond the Call

The ability and freedom to “go that extra mile” without having to consider corporate policy or the needs of a shareholder is gratifying and makes a real difference in the type of care that a community can deliver. As you consider senior community options for yourself or loved ones, make certain that the level of care that the community provides will be tailored to meet your needs as they arise, and that the care is delivered with the best possible motivation-care from the heart! And, at the very least, make sure that whoever runs the community actually has the ability to make decisions about your care without having to call New York City.  The most important advice is to know who owns that retirement home that you are considering!