Knowing that a lot of us are in the same boat, I asked some experts from my mother's facility the same kind of questions a lot of us are asking care providers.
When should people start thinking about retirement options?
T.K.: In your late 70s. It’s a good idea to move in while you are active and in good health in your early 80s, so you can get the maximum benefit from your membership.
(My mom moved to VOTI when she was 82, seven years ago. Then she said she was a lot younger than most of the people there. Not so much any more. One thing we know about aging—it doesn’t go backwards.)
Many older people have lived in a single-family home since they were married, 50 or 60 years ago. Isn’t it a big change for them to move into an apartment?
T.K.: It is. And change is often difficult for older people. But here at the Village we have a Move-In Coordinator, who will work with you to take the hassle out of your move. You’ll take your favorite furniture, or figure out what new items you’ll need. Most people tell us they wish they hadn’t waited so long.
(When my mom moved, we wondered if she’d need a two-bedroom apartment, for when we visited her. VOTI keeps a furnished one-bedroom as a guest room. When we go to visit, we call in advance and book the room. It’s less expensive than local hotels, close to mom, and it makes visiting easy. Now she says she’s glad she doesn’t have that extra room—she’d just forget what she put in there, anyway.)
What is a Continuing Care Retirement Community?
K.M.: A CCRC allows residents to move from independent living apartments to assisted living to a skilled nursing home, as they need more help. Many people are comforted knowing where they will go when they need help—and by being able to see it from where they live.
(For many of us the knowledge of what’s next—we’ll get older, and probably sicker—is confounded by the question of “where, next?” Continuing Care Retirement Communities are an answer to that second question. Many think of them as a kind of long-term care insurance.)
How can you rate the quality of the place you choose?
T.K.: We’re a not-for-profit, faith-based, full service retirement community. Every one of those qualifiers are important. We don’t need to make a profit for shareholders. We do make a profit, but all of that is plowed back into the Village. For instance, we’re building six new villas on our site, and they meet the highest environmental standards, and they’re already sold.
K.M. We need to upgrade the infrastructure, plump up the rainy-day fund, which the state requires us to keep. We have planned for natural disasters, bracing our structures for hurricanes, buying new generators, making plans to move people if a storm is heading for us. And because of my backround in risk management, we’ve incorporated safety into every improvement. Our goal is to prevent accidents before they happen.
T.K.: Different states have different legal definitions for a CCRC, and it’s important to know what kind of a contract you’re signing and what kind of regulations are in place. The State of Florida is actually one of the best at regulating these kinds of facilities.
If you’re looking at a CCRC, what should you ask them?
T.K.: First thing I’d do is ask to see a copy of their last audited financials. They may look at you kind of funny, but you have a right to know if this place is on strong financial footing. Nursing homes go bankrupt all the time. Nobody wants to be involved in that.
(My mom lived in Venice, Florida, for about 10 years before she moved to the Village. A lot of people from her neighborhood moved there and she knew they were happy.)
How much will it cost?
T.K.: You absolutely do not have to sign away everything you have, to live in this kind of community. Some facilities are more “hoity-toity”, but that’s not our goal. We look at our mission statement: We are committed to sharing God’s love by promoting individual growth and dignity enhancing the quality of life and meeting the human and spiritual needs of our residents, staff and community.
(It looks to me like the entrance fees for CCRC’s are around $100,000. For many, that’s buying your own apartment or villa. It’s like a down payment on becoming a life member. You know they’ll always have a place for you. Many organizations refund around 50 percent if you decide to leave or pass away after you’ve lived there for around four years. Monthly expenses range from around $2000 to $3000 depending on how big your apartment is, how many meals are included, and the number of services provided.)
T.K.: Some places nickel-and-dime you, charging so much to change a light bulb or fix a window screen. You want to find out what “maintenance” covers. Most people think that having all their utilities covered, plus the meals, plus the nursing staff, plus transportation and housekeeping, plus social and religious activities (let alone free Wi-Fi—we even have a full time IT person on staff)—that life here is more reasonable than living at home.
The other big question people have is, “How’s the food?” I asked Mike Donelan, who is in charge of VOTI food services, how to check that out. Donelan, who used to ride his skateboard to VOTI after high school to wash dishes, has worked his way up. He worked as a dish washer, a waiter and cook, and went to college to learn the business side of food service.
How do I know the meals will be good?
M.D: If the marketing director is showing you around, go sit with some residents and ask them what they think of the place. If you can, visit a resident for a meal without any marketers around. See what you think. We have one of the best salad bars anywhere around here. And the residents really choose the food. Each building has a committee and the committees have a council and they meet with us regularly. If they want something else on the menu, we get it. If they don’t like something, let me tell you, they let us know. We also have special menus for people with special diets.
When I have visited my mom for meals, the food is very good, the dining room is pleasant and wait staff is friendly. Everybody dresses up for Sunday brunch, and residents’ rules require men to wear long pants then, and for dinner.
“If residents don’t like the food, they’ll complain about everything,” said my mom, who worked at hospitals as a dietician for years. “If the food’s good, there won’t be that many complaints about anything else."—Denise DeClue