With so many retirement housing options, knowing where to begin can be a challenge, especially when searching for adult care homes.

There are many resources to help you find what you need. Most of these are trustworthy, some are not.

The Oregon Senior Referral Agency Association provides information, education and resources for consumers, senior referral agencies, and companies serving the senior population that do not provide referral services.

Consumers may access the site to find accredited referral agencies. Agencies can become members of OSRAA to gain access to more education through networking, workshops and conferences. Additionally, the website offers insight into current laws regarding adult care, opportunities to post vacancies in adult home care, assisted living, residential care and memory care.

OSRAA members work diligently to establish industry standards that protect vulnerable older adults. They have helped pass regulations for long-term care referral agents and ethical standards.

For example, they pushed for legislation requiring all referral agencies to register with the Department of Human Services to oversee complaints, give the public a source for complaints and report abuse.

“We lobbied from grass roots to state legislature for oversight to protect vulnerable seniors because some communities do not do their jobs,” says Liz Fischer, a certified senior advisor and OSRAA president and founding member. Learn more at osraa.com.

Referral services

Fischer owns Right Fit Senior Living Solutions, a senior referral agency, and knows first-hand what is needed to assist in the process of moving from your home to residential care.

Referral agents provide a multitude of services, she says, including giving tours of residential care homes and communities, and offering other referrals and resources related to the transition. They are insured and must provide disclosure statements.

Agents do not endorse or recommend any specific community and do not charge clients for their services. Instead, they are paid by the home or community when a family makes the choice that best fits the needs of their loved ones.

Fischer tells of concerned families who independently toured 20 places to find something that fit their needs, “and we could have found them help by visiting one to three.”

They also help you locate organizers who assist with downsizing and packing the home before the move; affordable lawyers to create estate plans, advance directives and other necessary documents; and leading you to an accredited claims agent who helps veterans and their families pay for long-term care.

Agents can refer clients to nursing and care managers who are advocates for the aging, and can even go with a person to doctor and hospital appointments to ensure they receive the care they need.

“We take a lot of stress away by helping families through trying times because we know where to get help for them,” Fischer says.

Visit ltcr.oregon.gov/agents to determine whether the agent you are working with is accredited.

Agents help find solutions for people in financial need and have a lot of experience in dealing with stressful situations.

Fischer shares the example of a man in his 80s who was left with no place to live because he and his wife sold their home to pay for her care.

“Most people don’t plan ahead because they don’t want to deal with death,” Fischer says. “They wait until a crisis and have no time to look at the many options and resources. They don’t know what to ask, what to look for in choosing a community. It is hard to think when the situation hits you in the face without warning.”

Unfortunate decisions are often made because the loved one is being released from rehab or a hospital, she says, and must be immediately housed to receive the necessary care.

“The process of making a decision in a time of need can be emotionally and physically draining when they run out of money where they are and need to find a new place, move all their belongings and furnish a new place,” Fischer says.

To qualify for Medicaid, a person’s assets must be $2,000 or less and the person must have a physical need such as incontinence, mobility, feeding and cognition. If you qualify for Medicaid, agents can explain benefits you might not be aware of. Agents also can help locate Medicaid-accredited communities, but Fischer notes there is a two- to four-year waiting list for many of these locations.

Referral agents also have access to a database that informs them of complaints regarding abuse, mismanagement and more.

“Our code of ethics requires that we visit all facilities and are aware of state surveys,” Fischer says. “On tour we ask the questions most families do not know to ask and point out things that are important.”

Adult home care

Because of new rules and regulations, adult foster care, also known as adult home care, has become a much more popular and viable care option for older adults.

“They provide a homelike environment and the same caregivers are there the entire time whereas in other communities they are there by shifts, day and night,” Fischer says. “Therefore, they notice the little things. They have staff that can treat some things right way and not have you sent to a hospital or rehab.”

There are only five beds in these homes, so the downside is the lack of socialization or activities that larger facilities can provide and that are important elements of care, she says.

And even at the cost of $4,500 to $5,000 a month, they usually charge extra for help with taking showers, dealing with incontinence, oxygen and other needs.

If a resident no longer can afford the price of living there, they will be asked to leave and find a new home.

Shouldering the costs

Fischer has seen the statistics and worries for boomer-age adults who have little or nothing saved for retirement, and who mistakenly believe Medicare and Social Security will be enough. “They aren’t,” she says. “Instead, (adults) are too absorbed in a new phone or the newest car and think they will die in their sleep. That’s nice, but not realistic.”

Retirement communities cost an average of $5,000 or more per month. In just five years, that’s $300,000 for living expenses alone.

“That doesn’t include charges for extra help,” she says.

To be even more prepared, Fischer urges all adults to have trusts, power of attorney, wills, advance directives and privacy protection or HIPAA forms, and long-term care already available long before they are needed.

Doing it on your own

If you choose to tour communities on your own, Fischer advises looking for cleanliness, smell, whether residents look happy, state records, and whether it just “feels right.”

Just because a retirement community looks slick, it doesn’t necessarily offer the care that someone needs. Be sure to understand what the caregiving staff is willing — and not willing — to help with.

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