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How to Address Issues With Assisted Living Care

By Deb HippMarch 6, 2019
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When your parent or senior loved one makes the move to assisted living, the objective is to make his or her life easier and safer. However, just like with any move, settling in at an assisted living community is an adjustment that sometimes presents challenges or concerns.

How can you effectively address issues with assisted living care? Read these eight tips.

Communication Is Key in Assisted Living

Concerns from family members and residents can range from serious to those on the minor side, says Jennifer FitzPatrick, author of “Cruising Through Caregiving: Reducing the Stress of Caring for Your Loved One.” For instance, if your loved one with dementia managed to wander from a community, that’s a serious issue. Medication management issues also need to be addressed right away. Often, though, minor concerns top the list of resident or family members’ worries.

“Maybe your loved one dislikes the food she’s being served, or you don’t feel like your phone calls are being returned as quickly as you’d like,” says FitzPatrick. It may be tempting to contact the assisted living administrator with every concern, but that’s typically not the best way to resolve issues.

Most often, concerns of assisted living residents and their loved ones relate to day-to-day care such as meals, personality differences between residents or schedules, says Lea Ann Coates, residency counselor at Bethesda Hawthorne Place, an assisted living community in St. Louis, Missouri.

Family members in any care setting may worry that they’ll cause conflict among staff members or that bringing up concerns will affect a loved one’s care. It’s more likely, however, that bringing issues to the forefront will speed resolution.

“We ask people to speak up and not let molehills become mountains,” says Coates.

“The community wants the resident to have a successful experience. We don’t want them to be unhappy and we are going to do anything we can do to resolve the challenge,” Coates says.

8 Tips for Addressing Issues With Assisted Living Care

How can you effectively resolve concerns with an assisted living community?

Here are some guidelines:

1. Ask open-ended questions.

Instead of simply stating that a meal wasn’t to your loved one’s liking, for instance, ask which foods were served and whether any alternatives were offered or are available. Rather than asking whether a caregiver assisted your loved one on a certain date, find out which services were (or weren’t) administered and why there was a problem.

“Lodge complaints with courtesy and respect,” says FitzPatrick.

2. Be patient while settling in.

Resident concerns often center around day-to-day activities such as bathing, dressing and medication management being done in a way that’s different than what that person is used to. For example, if your loved one likes to shower at 8 a.m. and is scheduled for a mid-morning bathing time, you may be able to get the time adjusted. It helps to inform staff during the admission process about a resident’s expectations.

“A lot of concerns can be alleviated by getting to know the resident and what that person likes or doesn’t like,” says Coates. “They have to get to know us and we have to get to know them.”

3. Document the issue.

Keep track of dates, times and occurrences related to your concern. “Try to have the who, what, when, where and why of the situation so that the staff can see if this was a one-time situation or a pattern,” says Coates.

“The more information a family can provide to help us see what’s happening and how to resolve the issue, the better.”

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4. Don’t wait to address a concern.

The less time that passes between a concerning occurrence and reporting it, the fresher everyone’s memory is about what happened and how to address it, says Coates.

“Immediate feedback is important,” she says.

5. Know community contacts.

Make sure that you and your loved one have administration and staff contact information. Bethesda Hawthorne Place provides residents with a list of each department, including department head contacts so families can know the correct person to speak with about concerns.

“We provide department managers’ names and bullet points outlining responsibilities under each name so the family or resident can go directly to the person who can offer the quickest response,” says Coates. “We talk about the contacts list during the admission process.”

6. Speak up at the residents’ council.

Most assisted living communities have venues for expressing concerns. Bethesda Hawthorn Place holds a monthly residents’ council where residents can speak up about concerns or make suggestions about services.

This allows everyone to be involved in solutions for better activities and care.

7. Start with the person who can resolve the problem.

FitzPatrick recommends starting with the lowest-ranking person with the power to help. “Family members or residents often waste time telling their concern to someone who isn’t empowered to fix the problem and knowledgeable about the issue,” says FitzPatrick. “Then frustration ensues because they have to start from the beginning explaining to a new person.”

If the issue is with hands-on care or schedules, the family member or resident should probably speak with care staff, says Coates. If the issue is housekeeping, letting the housekeeper know that the blinds need dusted may be all that’s necessary. If an issue persists, take the concern up the chain of command.

8. Utilize the chain of command.

If your concerns continue to go unaddressed, you can file a grievance with the assisted living community or reach out to your state’s long-term care ombudsman program. An ombudsman is trained to resolve complaints made by residents of long-term care communities.

“Know that you always have recourse if you don’t get the resolution you desire at the community level,” says FitzPatrick. “At the same time, keep in mind that change takes time. Try to be patient, especially if your concern is not life-threatening. Be reasonable if you see that the organization is attempting to fix problems and the health or safety of your loved one is not compromised.”

Have you, a parent or senior loved one been in this situation before? How did your family address issues with assisted living care? We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.

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Deb Hipp