Advice from AARP on how to plan for long-term elder care

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This week, the two U.S. Senators from Pennsylvania released a list of troubled nursing homes across the country that are considered a “Special Focus Facility” or a candidate for SFF.

Seventeen facilities from Florida were on the list compiled by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Seven of them are in the Tampa Bay area.

WMNF asked AARP Florida spokesperson Dave Bruns what families should pay attention to when a loved-one needs elder care.

“These issues just don’t start with selecting a nursing home. The issues start when family members begin to understand that an older loved one needs assistance with activities of daily living. And, that can start years, sometimes a decade, before somebody ends up in a Skilled Nursing Facility.

“The important thing is family should have a candid conversation, and they should make a plan. AARP can help. We have a document called “Prepare to Care” that’s available on our website, www.aarp.org, that guides families through the process of planning for the long-term care of a loved one.”

SK: What are some things that are on that document? What are some things that people should be considering?

“They should be considering what kind of setting they want their loved one to get care in. About 75% of AARP members tell us they would prefer to get care in their home or community. They like to live as independently as possible for as long as possible.

“And that’s really what has been happening to care in Florida. We have been emphasizing home and community-based care as families. That’s what we prefer. And what’s happening in skilled nursing facilities, that is to say nursing homes are getting residents who are frailer, and have more complicated medical conditions, and need a higher level of specialized care.

“So many people are being cared for at home. There are about two million older Floridians who are being cared for by about 2.7 million family caregivers. About one in seven Floridians is a family caregiver. There are about 75,000 people in nursing homes in Florida.

“So, family caregivers far outnumber the residents of nursing homes. And, they’re also about 85,000 people in assisted living facilities, which provide a kind of interim step between home and community-based care and skilled nursing facilities.”

SK: On Monday two U.S. Senators released information from the Centers from Medicare and Medicaid Services a list of U.S. nursing home facilities that are what are called Special Focus Facilities or candidates for SFF, and 15 candidates are in Florida. So,15 nursing homes that are candidates for this SFF designation are in Florida and two SFF Facilities are in Florida. What does that mean if a facility is rated a Special Focus Facility?

“It means that the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid [Services] have identified a pattern of problems at that facility that urgently require attention. There are other steps that state regulators have taken. Very frequently, trouble facilities end up on more than one, under the scrutiny of more than one, group of regulators. And there are very serious quality issues at some Elder Care Facilities.

“Having said that, the majority, the vast majority, of Elder Care Facilities, both assisted living facilities and nursing homes, not only provide pretty good quality care, but that quality has been increasing. There’s been a lot of attention paid to this by both State and Federal regulators over the past 5 or 10 years.

“That isn’t to say that your loved one is going to be safe in a facility. What is the most essential thing for anybody who has a loved one in a nursing home or in an assisted living facility is family or friends. Have a care giver personally visit that person as often as possible. Make friends with the certified nursing assistants who care for your loved one. Bring them dessert. Bring them flowers. Compliment them when they do a good job, and let them know that you’re watching when they don’t.”

SK: And is there a way for someone to check? Is there a state database or federal database they can check to see if their facility has met all the standards?

“There is. It’s called floridahealthfinder.gov. You can find it on the internet. I’m looking at their index page right now. And, you can look at a nursing home and assisted living facility quality indicators there. You can look at quality indicators for home health agencies. There’s a lot of good information on floridahealthfinder.gov, and every family who has a loved one in one of these facilities should be watching that information.”

SK: Is there anything else that people should know about caring for elderly family members?

“Again, the most important thing is for family members to be personally involved in their care. I don’t care where they are. I don’t care if they are living independently at home, or if they’re in an assisted living facility, or a nursing home. The single biggest factor in getting quality of care is having the vigilant and caring family member or friend show up and check.”

Listen to the full interview here: