A continuing care retirement community (also called a life plan community or CCRC) is a unique type of 55 community that provides both independent living residences as well as a full continuum of care services, typically on-site, should a resident ever need it. If you decide that CCRC senior living is the right option for you, there are certain qualities you should look for in a community. Here are a few of the characteristics that we believe are exhibited by the best life plan communities.
A strong resident-management relationship
A productive and open line of communication between management and residents is critical to being a top performing CCRC in the 21st century.
Residents of life plan communities have made a significant financial commitment; they deserve to have a voice in what happens in their community. This doesn’t mean residents will get everything they ask for, and there must be an effective process in place to channel communications and feedback, but their feedback and opinions are valuable and should be taken into earnest consideration by CCRC management.
More than anything, it’s an attitude — a culture. Residents must feel respected for who they are, what they have accomplished, and what they have to say. For non-profit CCRCs, the board should make resident representation a top priority.
A spirit of innovation and creativity
The best organizations in any industry recognize that if you’re not adapting and changing then you’re probably withering. This is no less true for senior living communities, including CCRCs, and their adoption of new technological advancements. In today’s world, no one should assume that older adults cannot use the latest technology as long as it is intuitive and properly designed.
We reached out to our friend and colleague Hoyle Koontz, senior living tech innovator and co-founder of The Vectre, for his comments on why technology is so important for senior living today. “We often talk about how both residents and prospects have dramatically adopted technology, with the pandemic as the primary catalyst,” says Koontz.
Koontz continues: “As senior living providers think about technology transformation, it’s imperative to understand that residents and prospective residents will never be less technologically savvy than they are today. Seniors are only increasing in their tech prowess. They thus expect communities to provide technology as a part of the value proposition for them to move out of their existing homes. Further, it’s critical for staff to have a deep understanding of tech in order to drive operational efficiencies.”
Resident-driven programs and activities
As it relates in particular to residents living independently, the best continuing care retirement communities seek to support rather than drive the activities in the community. Within a vibrant senior living community, the residents take the lead in creating and organizing many of the most popular activities and outings, while staff remain close at hand to help support the efforts as needed.
This isn’t to suggest that the community should never plan anything, but many residents find purpose and enjoyment in helping to coordinate various social functions and resident activities.
This may even include projects with local non-profits and other opportunities to give back to the greater community. Whether a resident is interested in educational, cultural, environmental, socioeconomic, civic, health causes, they likely can find a volunteer opportunity to match their passion. And research has even shown that volunteerism can help seniors lower high blood pressure and improve life satisfaction.
The organization’s financial stability should be a top priority of any life plan community executive. Prospective residents want to know that their money will be safe and that the promises made by the community — explicit or implied — will be fulfilled. This includes the delivery of any long-term care services a resident may need in the future, timely payment of entry fee refunds (when applicable), and more.
Today’s prospective CCRC residents are more self-directed in their research process than ever before. They want to be empowered with information to make a confident and informed decision, and this includes assurance about a community’s finances. Any questions about this will only delay the decision process.
There are simple ways for life plan communities to build prospects’ confidence in the community’s financial stability. For example, in addition to providing audited financial statements (which are difficult for the average person to interpret), why not have a one- or two-page summary with the most important indicators of financial strength presented in a clear and concise fashion? It could be included on the community’s website too.
While residents of life plan communities may hope to never need the services provided in the healthcare center, the reality is that most will need it at some point — at least on a temporary basis, if nothing else. And in truth, access to on-site care is one of the reasons people choose CCRC senior living.
For those seniors who opt for a CCRC, they want to live in a community where they know they’ll receive the highest quality care. This is particularly true today, when staffing challenges are an ongoing issue. June 2022 surveys by both American Health Care Association (AHCA) and National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL) found that a majority of assisted living communities and skilled nursing facilities (also called nursing homes) are experiencing staffing shortages, and the vast majority have difficulty hiring new staff.
The best CCRCs, however, are able to retain top-quality staff members within their healthcare centers. They accomplish this through a combination of factors including adequate pay and benefits, a positive culture, and a safe work environment. The ability to retain tenured staff truly speaks volumes about the management of any 55 community.
Finding the best life plan community for you
A life plan community can be a wonderful senior living option for people who want the vibrant, carefree lifestyle and amenities of a traditional 55 community with the peace of mind that they will have access to care services if they ever need them.
Although there are many characteristics of the best life plan communities, we feel the absence of any of the above makes it tough to be considered in the “best” category. People who choose to live in a life plan community are making a substantial investment — one that will impact their health, happiness, and finances in the years to come. Be sure you do your own due diligence to be certain you will be getting what you’re paying for. You deserve the best!
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