I have to confess: I was a little surprised by the responses I received from  last week’s blog post on CCRCs’ elevators. In it, I discuss how less expensive (and thus slower) elevators may be selected by a commercial developer as a cost-savings measure, but it is a building’s residents who pay the price for this decision as they wait and wait for the elevator to arrive. This is why I advised prospective continuing care retirement community (CCRC or life plan community) residents to take a ride on the community’s elevator to see how fast (or how slow) it is, and to note how long you have to wait. It may seem like a minor detail, but it is one that will impact your life daily once you are a resident.

>> Related: What an Elevator Says About a CCRC

Reader feedback

The responses that I received about the elevator post came from both CCRC industry professionals as well as from prospective CCRC residents. Among those within the industry, many agreed that prospective residents should test out the CCRC’s elevator, but it was this email response from a myLifeSite user that touched upon another crucial consideration when it comes to choosing a CCRC.

In his note, this user recounted being “one of three healthy and reasonably mobile 70-year-olds” who became trapped in an elevator that was stuck between floors for about one hour at a symphony hall. He described the rescue by first responders, which involved removing the elevator’s small ceiling panel and lowering a ladder and a rescue team member into the elevator. One by one, each person climbed onto the roof of the elevator car, and then each was lowered down the elevator shaft by rescuers a distance of approximately 5 feet to the next floor of the building.

Thankfully, all were successfully extracted, and no one was injured, but the email makes one final observation:

“Afterwards, we considered what could have happened if the elevator riders had included people who were less mobile, had walkers or wheelchairs, were obese, or had claustrophobia, etc., all of whom can be found at a symphony concert AND at a CCRC.”

>> Related: A Closer Look: Examining the CCRC Market in the U.S.

Preparing a CCRC for emergency what-ifs

As the myLifeSite user’s email reminds us, elevators, like all machinery, can and do break down on occasion. When touring a CCRC, it may be worth asking if they have a plan in place not only to handle extracting residents—both those who are healthy and active, as well as those who have health or mobility issues—who may get trapped in a broken-down elevator, but also a plan to transport residents who have mobility issues from floor to floor while elevator repairs are made.

However, this email also brings up a larger point about safety measures and procedures that should be in place at a CCRC. Any multi-family residential building or healthcare facility in the U.S. will have certain safety requirements as determined by the state fire marshal and/or local fire chief, as well as local building codes. And since CCRC’s are also the workplace for numerous employees, they will have Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety regulations that they must follow, including design and construction requirements for emergency exit routes, fire safety plans, and mandatory fire extinguishers.

But just because all CCRCs should have these plans and procedures in place, is it enough to make you feel confident that you will be safe and protected in an emergency situation?

>> Related: Why Every Retiree Should Consider a Retirement Community

What to look for, what to ask at a CCRC

CCRCs offer a unique challenge when it comes to fire and other emergency preparedness since they are both multi-family residential communities as well as healthcare facilities. As you are considering various CCRCs, here are a few emergency preparedness-related topics to ask about and/or look for:

  • Are the CCRC’s buildings well-maintained and tidy? Make sure nothing is blocking doors or hallways that would be needed for escape during a fire or other emergency.
  • Verify with management that there is an up-to-date evacuation plan in place that involves all staff and residents in the CCRC’s various buildings—from independent living residences to assisted living apartments to the skilled nursing center—and is practiced regularly.
  • Ask not only about evacuation in the case of an emergency such as a localized fire at the CCRC, but also about what plan they have should a complete relocation be required, such as for a hurricane or other natural disaster.
  • Are there built-in safety systems in place such as alternative exits, alarms, fire doors, and sprinklers? How often are they inspected?
  • Since a large number of residential fires are caused by cigarettes, and flames can be deadly around equipment like oxygen tanks, are there guidelines for residents and/or employees who smoke, such as a separate room or staff supervision?

The health, happiness, and safety of residents is priority number one at the vast majority of CCRCs. When looking at a community, management should take any and all of your questions related to safety and emergency preparedness seriously, and they should be forthright with relevant information and statistics. If they are not, at very well may be a big red flag for that particular community—even a deal breaker.

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