Senior living communities are busy places, filled at any given time with family, friends, residents and staff.
Whether you’re looking at an assisted living, independent living, memory care or nursing home community, there are a number of different people that you’ll encounter throughout your journey, and many of these people will be instrumental to the happiness and well-being of the senior in your life.
In truth, there are so many different types of roles and responsibilities within each type of senior living community, it can be difficult to know what to expect, and who to turn to when you need something.
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Read the descriptions of some of the staff that you’ll encounter and the role they may play in your parent or senior’s life:
Before you even start searching for a senior living community, you may encounter a care manager (also referred to as aging care managers, elder care managers or geriatric care managers). The role of a care manager is to help an at-home family caregiver (or a family living near or far from a senior), find the right services and act as a guide through the maze of available care providers and services.
The staff in a senior living community are often more like family to residents. These are the people who see residents on a daily basis, and their job is to foster a sense of community and ensure their happiness and well-being:
Activity coordinator: Sometimes called the activity assistant, their job is to develop and implement a recreation program that meets resident interest and needs, while being fun and engaging.
Activity director: Activity directors are responsible for keeping residents active and engaged. To do this they plan, implement and monitor recreation and wellness programs to meet the specific interests of residents. The activity director is often responsible for coordinating transportation and managing volunteers as well.
Dining services team: Includes chefs, dining services director, hosts and hostesses, servers, etc. These staff become part of the daily lives of community residents.
Driver: Drivers provide transportation services for residents to appointments, community activities and errands. Drivers get to know residents’ habits, preferences and routines, and are an important part of the senior living community.
Health and wellness director: Sometimes the health and wellness director is a nurse, but not always. Their job is to assess the physical and social needs of residents and coordinate with staff to ensure the senior living community is providing the best care experience.
Housekeeper: More than just cleaning or tidying rooms, housekeepers bond with residents and shape their environment and experience.
Maintenance team: The maintenance team maintains and repairs the buildings and grounds in the community, and as a familiar face they often form meaningful friendships with residents.
Memory care program director: Communities with memory care services often have a program director who designs and implements memory care activities that are meant to meet the unique needs of each memory care resident.
Personalized living assistant: In addition to helping residents bathe, dress, groom and take medication, the personalized living assistant often helps residents get to and from scheduled activities and meals. They’re usually responsible for ensuring that seniors needs are met and that they have companionship, independence and support (but also assistance when needed).
Resident care provider: Residents often form strong bonds with their resident care provider, who should offer compassion, emotional support and respect when they serve meals and help residents groom, dress and look their best.
Health care staff are arguably one of the most important in a senior living community, but also the most confusing for residents and seniors. The confusion lies in the many different types of staff out there (each one with a specialized role). Here are some common types of health care and nursing* staff to look out for:
Certified medication aide: Sometimes called a certified medication technician, their job is to administer medication and treatments according to the health care provider’s orders. This may include supervising residents who self-administer medication, which is sometimes required depending on the senior living community and state regulatory guidelines. Certified medication aides also maintain records including reporting changes in a resident’s physical behavior or condition, their leisure activities, and any general incidents or observations as they occur.
Certified nursing assistant: A nursing assistant helps residents with daily living activities like bathing, dressing, grooming and toileting. They may also be responsible for serving meals to residents and recording and reporting changes in eating habits.
Clinical care coordinator: The clinical care coordinator is a nurse who is responsible for ensuring that each resident’s personal service needs are met.
Director of clinical services: The director of clinical services is often a registered nurse (RN) who is responsible for overseeing all the other nurses, medical records and ensure that residents are properly cared for.
Home health aide: As the name suggests, home health aides often work within a senior’s home, but sometimes you’ll find them in a senior living community, especially an independent senior living community when a senior is recovering from illness or surgery. Although they’re not necessarily a nurse, the home health aide’s job does include some of the nursing duties mentioned above like helping residents with treatments that are ordered by the physician (this is usually done under the supervision of a nurse if the aide is not a nurse themselves). The aide also plans and prepares meals and provides emotional and psychological support.
Hospice aide: A hospice aid works within a hospice, under the supervision of an RN. The job of a hospice aid is similar to those of a certified nursing assistant (sometimes they’re one and the same). They’ll generally report observations about the resident and ensure their personal comfort and needs are being met.
Licensed practical nurse (LPN): Sometimes called a wellness nurse, the LPN works under the supervision of registered nurses (RNs) and physicians, providing basic bedside care to residents. In a senior living community, LPNs often assist with writing care plans, administering medication and treatments, reviewing treatment sheets for accuracy, and are responsible for supervising nursing assistants. In California and Texas, an LPN is called a licensed vocational nurse (LVN).
Physical therapist and physical therapy assistant: A physical therapist provides physical therapy services by assisting in the assessment, implementation and program planning of physical therapy per the physician’s orders. Many senior living communities have physical therapists who visit the community to meet with residents as needed.
Physician: Most senior living communities don’t have a doctor on-site 24/7, but some do. Others have physicians with regular on-site office hours, and others expect residents to continue to see their family physician. Whether a physician will be on site will really depend on the type of senior living community.
Quality improvement nurse: A quality improvement nurse is responsible for ensuring that state regulations are met, and that there is a positive physical, psychological and social environment for residents. They may also perform nursing functions like administering medications and treatments, keeping medical records, implementing resident care plans, and reporting side effects of medication.
Registered nurse (RNs): When you think of a nurse, you’re probably thinking of an RN. Depending on the environment, an RN’s nursing responsibilities will vary, but they’re usually responsible for giving residents medication, monitoring health, managing records and offering medical updates to family members and residents.
Resident care coordinator: The resident care coordinator is often an LPN (although not always) who is responsible for managing the health of all residents within the senior living community. The resident care coordinator shares information with staff and family, orders medication from the pharmacy and sometimes administers medication. They also educate and train nursing staff.
RN visiting nurse: Also called an admissions coordinator or nurse healthcare manager, the visiting nurse will often help draft a plan of care that is based on a home health visit before the resident moves into a senior living community. Their job is to determine the required services that the senior needs and ensure that the senior living community is prepared for their arrival. The visiting nurse’s most critical responsibility is to act as an advocate. They ensure there is ongoing communication between different caregivers including the family, physician, referral sources and the senior living community. The visiting nurse is sometimes also responsible for supervising LPNs.
Social worker: A social worker has a broad range of responsibilities in a senior living community, but their main goal is to assess the psycho-social status of residents and communicate their findings to the health care team and family.
The office staff at a senior living community are often the first people you’ll encounter. These roles include a community ambassador, executive director (who is responsible for overseeing staff and all day-to-day operations), marketing and communications director, receptionist and sales manager (often your first point of contact when selecting a potential community). Most senior living communities also have a business office coordinator (also called accounts receivable or biller, who is responsible for answering your questions about billing adjustments, invoices, Medicaid, etc).
Although this list is long, it’s by no means exhaustive. There are plenty of other people you’ll encounter in a senior living community not included on this list, and the responsibilities and terms outlined above will vary from one community to another.
If you’re not sure who does what or want to know more about the staff, then don’t be afraid to ask! Senior living communities of all types want to ensure that families and residents are well-taken care of, and that concerns are addressed.
* If you’re living in Canada, the names of nursing staff will differ.
Is there a senior living community role that you think we should include in the list above? Let us know and tell us how this person has made a difference in the life of you or a senior you love.