Picking a senior community – it’s not just about the chandelier | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Picking a senior community – it’s not just about the chandelier


Did you know there are over 500 senior communities in the metro Milwaukee area alone?

Looking for the “right” community is daunting as no two are alike. It’s hard to match apples to apples when communities have different cultures, amenities and care philosophies.

When selecting a community, touring, talking to the staff, mingling with residents and sitting and observing your surroundings is really important.

The amenities and offerings visible when touring a senior community are easy for a family to assess. What is important, but not always visible, however, is the quality of care that you or your loved one will receive from that community’s caregivers and staff.

So what do we look at when looking for a caregiving environment for our loved ones or ourselves?

It’s certainly not the chandelier or the carpet. A pool, diverse activities and sprawling amenity lists are certainly wonderful to have and can add to the experience in any community, but they do not always equal better care.

Culture begets staff longevity

Longevity of the staff is one of the most important predictors of superior caregiving in a senior community. Although there are no official studies to date, we do know that there is a direct correlation between satisfied caregivers and satisfied residents.

We are only in the beginning of a caregiver crisis that will emerge as baby boomers are getting older and birthrates and mortality are dropping. There are just not enough people to care for our aging population that have the passion and desire to do the work involved.

All senior communities experience some level of turnover. A low-turnover senior community typically has created a supportive environment for the staff where they are encouraged to take the time to get to know the residents and their families.

Longevity of the staff is directly related to the culture of the employer and implemented by their managers. Do caregivers feel heard by their superiors when they have an issue? Are they being brought up through the ranks and mentored? Are they being exposed to continuing education? Do they feel valued and appreciated?

Caregiving is one of the hardest jobs out there, and many times, it’s thankless. Caregivers attend to physical and emotional needs, and are valued companions, friends and historians.

Care staff are the people who hold our mother’s hands when she says goodbye to her home where she raised her children. They are the people who make sure our husband’s physical care needs are met with dignity and compassion. They are the people who redirect our grandparents, sisters, and friends when their dementia has caused them to be scared or upset.

The culture and mentorship that a senior community provides for their caregivers and staff creates an environment based on support and will lead to employee longevity. This longevity will aid in establishing vital relationships between caregiver and care recipient, regardless of the care recipients’ ability to participate. Longevity nurtures consistency, which ensures better care and better outcomes.

Whether you choose to tour with a Certified Senior Advisor or not, here are a few things to consider when looking at care for you or your loved one.

  1. Longevity of the staff.Not just the caregivers, but also managers, cooks and cleaning staff. Keep in mind how long the community has been around and that some level of turnover is normal even in the best places.
  2. Ratio of caregivers to residents. This could change as acuity of the resident’s need changes.
  3. What kind of initial and ongoing training is required of the staff?
  4. What is the procedure to follow when a family has a complaint? Knowing how to address an issue and to whom is imperative.
  5. Visit the community on the scheduled tour date and then a few times unannounced, at different times of the day.Keep in mind that it is commonplace for people to take naps and rest, especially after lunch and before dinnertime.
  6. Sit and observe the interactions. Get the “feel” of the place, the relating among people.
  7. Ask about background checks and other testing employees must go through.
  8. Bring your loved one to a meal and participate in an activity as part of the decision process.

There are many lists you can find about “what to look for” in a senior community but at the end of the day, if you’ve done your due diligence, you “feel” it when you find the right place for yourself or your loved one. Trust that with eyes wide open.

Lauren O’Desky is a Certified Senior Advisor and owner of Oasis Senior Advisors of North Milwaukee. Oasis Senior Advisors is a free service for families and seniors to assist them in finding senior living and care options. O’Desky, her husband Ryan, and their three children are active in the Milwaukee Jewish Community, serving on various boards and committees.