BY DIANNE CROWN
Like many seniors, Angie Squires and her husband had moved from a house to a condo where they could still enjoy independent living; but, in the years after Chet died, Angie began falling and needed a different housing solution. She chose River Birch Senior Living from Springfield’s wide variety of options, and it became a safe, welcome home when she arrived in May 2017.
“In the condo, I had to make my own bed, make my own meals, take my own showers. I had someone coming in to help, but it got to be a problem because I was falling all the time. One day, I counted 24 falls the year before. The last time, I had fallen in the bedroom and, while I was waiting for the fire department to come, I thought, ‘I’ve got to do something.’ I started to look for someplace else to live.
“I had seen some other places when I visited people. I looked at this room on a Monday and moved the next day. Here, everything is done. The room is cleaned, meals are prepared, the bed is made, laundry is done. They take me to doctor appointments and make sure my medications are administered. If you have to be someplace, this is the place to be.”
Co-owner Tom Hardy explains that services in the three homes provide meals, housekeeping, assistance with self-care, recreational activities, medical care and transportation, in addition to being licensed for memory care. Hardy says. “It’s not set up to fit the lifestyle of an independent person with a car. Our goal is to help seniors improve or stabilize their health situation to avoid the need to live in a nursing home.” The contemporary color scheme, common room furnishings, dining rooms and lack of long, bright hallways, create the feeling of a lovely hotel.
“It’s homey,” not like an institution, Squires says. “You walk through the front door into a living room, and there’s a formal dining room with French doors that close so you’re private. I’ve had people out several times. I had my 85th birthday there. My room has a private bathroom and a view of the golf course out the window. I like the scenery.”
Lewis Memorial Christian Village, on West Washington Street, is another residence option that offers everything from independent living to skilled nursing and long-term care. Set on 19 acres among woods and flower beds, senior living advisor Kelley Tierney says, “It’s a country-like, peaceful setting.”
LMCV is a continuing care retirement community where residents can enter independent living and transition through increasing levels of care without moving to another facility. It was built in the 1970s as a nursing care center and now offers 38 independent living garden homes and apartments, 20 beds in two assisted living villas for people who need a little more care, and the 42-room GracePoint short-term rehabilitation facility, which helps transitions people back home or directly into Lewis Memorial Christian Village housing.
A Christian spirit and welcoming attitude are two of LMCV’s strong points, says Tierney. “We exist to honor God. We have a full-time chaplain, church services, Bible study and more.” Wellness directors and volunteer residents provide a kind of welcome wagon experience to make sure new people find their place in the community. “Our residents feel we really care about them. The wife of one of our couples told me, ‘Even if I won the lottery, I wouldn’t move away from Lewis Memorial,’” said Tierney.
Along with the family feel, Tierney continues, “It’s completely maintenance-free living, from snow removal to lawn care and appliance repair.” LMCV is licensed by Illinois Department of Public Health, and Tierney says she is proud of their deficiency-free annual inspection reports.
“The Illinois Department of Public Health licenses long-term care facilities, often called nursing homes, as well as assisted living facilities,” explains IDPH public information officer Melaney Arnold. “Supportive living facilities are under the purview of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. Retirement communities and senior living apartments are not regulated by IDPH.”
Arnold continued, “IDPH inspects the facilities it licenses. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities are inspected annually and upon complaint. Inspections ensure compliance with the Nursing Home Care Act or the Assisted Living and Shared Housing Act, depending on the type of facility. Rules specify what is required of facilities to ensure that residents are safe and healthy. The rules address things like quality of care, medication administration, abuse, neglect, supervision, rehabilitation services, physical activities, diet, physician’s orders, etc.”
IDPH serves an important role in senior care, says Kathleen Cross, executive director of Fair Hills Residence of the Illinois Presbyterian Home. “Family members know somebody is overseeing residents’ medical care and that facility practices are in compliance with the regulations.”
A facility’s senior housing and care classification is complicated, depending on services and funding, according to Cross. Locations may offer independent living, assisted living and nursing care. From there, nursing care classifications may be intermediate, skilled, or Medicare; and, further, maybe provided by facility staff or through an outside agency. Payment sources may be private, public, Medicare, or short-term stay.
The Illinois Presbyterian Home “has a history of 65 years providing assisted living and sheltered care services,” says Cross. “We have a very social model. Our residents live in an active faith-based community enjoying social activities and exercise programs.
“The staff blends in more as a family than employees, and we have a very structured volunteer program both through churches, and the Kings Daughters Organization, that serves as an extension of our care and ministry monthly and on holidays.
When beginning to consider options, Cross encourages families to tour facilities, “It’s okay to have several tours,” she says. “Do you feel at home, comfortable and secure? Talk to staff and other residents. Is this a place that would make you feel happy? And, be sure to ask about the contract. Are there minimums?”
Some facilities, such as River Birch, provide a checklist for prospective residents. “Questions to assist in Evaluation Process” is a helpful note-taking guide to compare up to four locations, staff, nursing care, medication administration, food service, resident care and caregiver-resident ratios and transportation. It allows family members to objectively evaluate how services and costs measure up.
And don’t assume a published monthly cost is set in stone, Hardy added. Room size and availability may put a desired residence within reach. “Educate yourself. Compare apples to apples, not just quoted rates. Learn whether fees are flat rate or menu based. Ask questions about the average recorded response time when residents press a button to request assistance.
“If you’re a family member who sees the day ahead when a parent will need assistance to improve quality of life, start your search sooner than later. Know your options before you need them.” The right choice will make all the difference. “When I found out I was going to have to go someplace,” says Angie Squires, “it was traumatic for me at first. But, once I got here, I was fine.”
DiAnne Crown is a frequent contributor to Illinois Times’ publications and creator of www.seasonsofparenting.com.