What prompts someone to consider moving to a retirement community – and what is it really like to live there? More than 150 prospective residents recently joined together on a Zoom call to hear from a panel of Covia community residents about their choice of community living.
“When my husband died, I was living alone in a new home that we had just remodeled. I was really alone,” said Sharon, a resident of Spring Lake Village in Santa Rosa. “Friends encouraged me to come and visit the community and I found it so welcoming. There are so many things to do and people to see that it’s enriched my life so deeply.”
Many echoed the importance of engagement with others as a major plus of community living.
“I wanted to live near my children but wanted to be with peers, in a vibrant community,” said Judy, a San Francisco Towers resident.
“There’s a welcoming committee that arranged for us to meet others over meals,” said Chuck, a resident of St. Paul’s Towers in Oakland. “It’s one way we started to understand the community. We have relationships with people we met when we first moved in.”
The supportive continuum of care was another key priority in evaluating a move to a community.
“One alternative for people is to stay at home and become increasingly incapacitated, and have to have family or someone hired to take care of you. The other alternative is a community with the opportunity to see people who model that transition — from being able to do so many things on your own to when you’re not able to do so much,” said Raymond, a resident of Canterbury Woods in Pacific Grove. “It’s the last phase we don’t tend to think about for ourselves. That’s part of life. In a community like this, you have support and some role models that you wouldn’t have if you were on your own.”
Judy added that “With a background in critical care nursing, I very carefully evaluated the health care continuum. I’m very impressed with the way that Covia has really observed to the fullest all of the CDC recommendations during the pandemic.”
Staffing levels and quality of service in a community were a key criteria for many residents.
“Staff have been wonderful, especially during the pandemic. And we have wonderful resident health services staff; they’ve all bent over backwards to make life easier for us,” said Judy. “At first my family was very concerned when they saw the news [about the pandemic in congregate living] but you want to be in a place that is stringent and careful. My family has been very reassured by the staff competency and quality.”
Sharon commented that she appreciates that staff get to know residents individually. “The staff really take pride in the work they’re doing. The dining staff we see every day and each of more than 400 residents is greeted by name,” she said. “They are exceptionally competent. It’s an amazing variety of food. It’s one of the most nurturing places one could be, even more so in an epidemic.”
In addition to health care support, a community of peers and friends, and quality staff, every individual has unique priorities – and residents stressed the importance of knowing your own personal priorities.
“Take stock of the things you need and look at places through that lens,” advised Katie from Canterbury Woods. “I came and stayed overnight and discovered the distant sound of people moving about was reassuring to me.”
“For us, most of the places we looked at were remote and we wanted to be able to go out and get a cup of coffee on our own,” noted Richard.
Sharon, who like many residents retired from a demanding professional career, recommended considering how you might spend your time. “Look at the activities, performances and events that are available,” she advised. “Even during the pandemic, we have closed-circuit TV with exercise classes and performances and classes. I think it’s important to look at the daily life options you have.”
“We had criteria for physical facilities and architecture and we had geographic criteria,” said Peggy from Canterbury Woods. “But when we have lunch with people who are looking at our community as an option, my main message is ‘every retirement community has a culture, a people culture, that’s unique.’ I encourage people to have as much contact with people who live in a community and stay at the place for a couple of days so you can uncover who people are.”
All the residents on the panel agreed that it’s important to understand your personal priorities, do your research and visit communities of interest.
One of the residents summarized the process, saying, “I did my homework and so I was ready when it was time to make the choice.”
If you are considering moving to a Senior Living Community – but not just yet – there’s another option available to you: joining a waiting list.
Too often, people start looking for senior living options after a need arises, leaving them scrambling for the first available option, even if it isn’t what they truly want. You may be thinking that a move to a Life Plan Community is something that will happen 2, 3, 5 or more years down the line. It’s still worth taking steps now so that when the time comes, you’ll get what you want.
Of course visiting in person is an important part of the process. Each community has a different personality. Getting to know a community, asking your questions, and meeting other residents makes it more likely you will choose a place that feels like home.
But if you’ve come to the event, taken the tour, and still think it’s not the right time to move, joining the community’s waiting list gives you the chance to consider the pros and cons while reserving your place for the residence you want.
“A waiting list is a terrific opportunity to secure your future plans without a large commitment of time or money,” says Linda McMenamin, Covia’s Senior Director of Sales and Marketing. “Often people will join wait lists at multiple communities to ensure they have options in the event their needs change and they are ready to make a move.”
Joining a waiting list at the community – or communities – of your choice has other benefits as well.
- Reduce anxiety: “Most people benefit from being on a list because the opportunity to move often coincides with changes in health, lifestyle or living situation,” McMenamin notes. You no longer need to worry whether you have a place in line when you are ready to move. With most of the preliminary paperwork completed, you know you’re pre-approved.
- Take your time: “Being on the waiting list allows you the freedom to explore your options at your own pace, without time constraints or pressure to make a decision,” says McMenamin. You can use the time you are on the waiting list to think through what’s important to you and to put other parts of your plan in place.
- Build connections: As a waiting list member you will be invited to special events, allowing you to get to know a community even better. “Often times wait list members can join the fitness center, attend activities and join residents and future neighbors for meals,” McMenamin observes. When you do move in, it will be a much more familiar place that’s a lot easier to call home.
- Priority access: When an apartment opens up that matches your preference, we’ll call to let you know. Our waiting list applicants receive priority for any new inventory. “Having that plan in place gives you the flexibility to say yes when you are ready to make a move,” says McMenamin.
- No obligation: Just because you’re on the waiting list doesn’t mean you are required to move in. “There’s no risk and the financial cost is usually very minimal,” says McMenamin. If you decide a community isn’t for you, your fee is fully refundable.
If you do decide to put down a deposit, be sure to ask how long the waiting list is for the home style you’d like, and what the expected waiting time is. Many times, larger homes have longer waiting lists, which may affect your plans. Talk with your senior living counselor about your plans and timeline and they will do their best to accommodate you.
Some communities may have a limit on the number of times you can turn down an apartment offered to you without losing your place on the waiting list. Although you are not obligated to accept a home presented to you, this may mean that eventually you won’t be the first person called.
But when you do get the call for the home you want, at the time you want it, you can feel comfort and confidence knowing the plan you’ve put in place is working as you hoped.
For the 5th year in a row, Spring Lake Village has been named Best of Sonoma County by the readers of the Press Democrat. Along with this honor, this year Spring Lake Village also received the 2018 NuStep Gold Pinnacle Award® for excellence in wellness programming.
A Covia Life Plan Community in Santa Rosa, California, Spring Lake Village provides homes and services for over 450 seniors. It is the only senior living community in Sonoma County that offers the full continuum of care: Independent Living, Assisted Living, Memory Care, and a 5-star Medicare rated 70-bed skilled nursing and rehab center.
Built on 31 acres, the community is located on Santa Rosa Creek and next to Trione-Annadel State Park and Spring Lake Regional Park. Its amenities include fine and casual dining options, a pool and fitness center, on-site resident health services, spiritual care, a full activity calendar, as well as resident-led programs.
“These sparkling residents are committed to the community with the Committees they organize and run to make this campus their own. Every voice is welcomed here and heard,” says Judy Haley, Director of Sales and Marketing.
Find out more about Spring Lake Village on their website.
I am reflecting from a somewhat different position than the more usual perspective offered at LeadingAge meetings – the outlook of an octogenarian who has been a CCRC resident for eight years. In this, I hope that Proverbs 20:29 is correct in saying that “The glory of youths is their strength, but the majesty of old men is their gray hair.”
For CCRC residents like me, “long term” has a different meaning than it used to, but when involved in community affairs we still try to plan for others coming after us, even if we won’t directly benefit from the improvements we are working for.
Our life as residents is distinct in that it is essentially without power within the community, while we are at the same time exceptionally dependent on the spirit of obligation and stewardship of others. Residents face uncertainties in costs of care, the future of government funding, and the outlook for skilled nursing availability. The passage to a more powerless and dependent life has been a stormy one for some residents, and this has created some burdens for you as care providers.
We are in a time, in senior care as well as all other walks of life, when many are proposing answers, answers often not requested but nonetheless forcefully expressed, but fewer are asking the necessary questions and even fewer are willing to listen first. As a resident member of the LeadingAge California Board of Directors, I have seen that LeadingAge has been asking the necessary questions and is listening to the answers it is hearing.
You, LeadingAge and the senior services providers of California, are the people we residents are relying on, whether because of physical or mental necessity or simply by contract. These are demanding jobs, calling for great commitment, and often involve more stress and less compensation than employment elsewhere. It is noteworthy that many providers have a religious foundation, including my own, which began life in the mid-nineteenth century as the Protestant Episcopal Old Ladies Home. It has since relaxed its admission policy.
I have looked for a pithy saying to close my reflection, and the quotation, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care,” attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, fits the challenges and obligations assumed by LeadingAge and the entire elder care community. A more personal aspiration was my mother’s frequently expressed measure of a person – wisdom. For her, the measure of success was not wealth, public acclaim or personal popularity, but wisdom, and her judgment that a person had no wisdom was a severe rebuke. I believe that the efforts of everyone at LeadingAge and all of you at our communities are meeting that test, and hope that you will continue to strive to do so. I and all residents of our communities are relying on you and I am confident that you will.