Community Health

4 essentials to know about healthcare in senior living communities

When people consider a move into a senior living community, their health needs often rank as their biggest concern.

When people consider a move into a senior living community, their health needs often rank as their biggest concern.

Nadia Geigler, chief executive officer at The Admiral on the Lake — a nonprofit, life plan community in Chicago — compares the process of navigating the overall system of healthcare to drinking from a firehose. “Even for someone like me who knows something about senior healthcare, it is not easy to navigate this system,” she says.

People often move into senior communities because they either currently need or anticipate they will need assistance with their health. From medication management to chronic illness care, who manages people’s medical needs in senior living communities?

Here are four important points to think about with regard to healthcare and senior living communities:

1 Community types align with different healthcare needs.

There are four kinds of senior living communities to choose from, depending on a person’s health status and what their current medical needs are:

Independent or residential living: Seniors can come and go as they please and have minimal to no medical supervision.

Assisted living: A crossover between skilled nursing and independent living, these facilities can vary drastically in terms of the medical services provided. But overall, offer assistance for some daily care tasks.

Skilled nursing: Offering short- or long-term stays with 24/7 supervision, these facilities provide physical, occupational, and speech therapy. They are under the strictest level of regulation by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).

Continuing care retirement community (CCRC): A facility that offers all these types of living arrangements in one location. 

2 You can keep your doctors.

Whether it’s a routine dental cleaning or a more involved visit with a neurologist, you can maintain relationships with your existing providers. In the event a resident needs help getting to their appointments, facilities can arrange for transportation or bring a provider to their facility. In general, however, the level of accommodation depends on each community’s resources and how they operate. 

Philip Hoffman, a 90-year-old retired public relations executive who has lived at The Admiral for almost 10 years, had hip surgery in 2019 followed by two additional surgeries to deal with complications from a staph infection. Hoffman toggled between his surgeon at the Illinois Bone & Joint Institute and rehab specialists at the Admiral as he navigated his way toward a full recovery.

“Sometimes I drove myself, had a friend take me, or used a driving service,” Hoffman says. “But I never thought of not keeping my outside doctors while living at The Admiral.”

3 Trained staff are at the ready. 

As we age, falls become more common, though never predictable.

Kathryn Berg, healthcare administrator at Covenant Living, a CCRC in Northbrook, says that the nursing staff at Covenant assists residents with all the daily activities of living, helping them use lifts, walkers, and wheelchairs if mobility becomes a challenge. Ongoing staff training includes CPR training as well.

Many senior communities partner with a local hospital if residents should need acute medical attention. In addition, some communities may bring providers on site to support residents. 

Generally speaking, CCRCs may have on-site primary care providers and specialists, such as podiatrists, dermatologists, or audiologists. The Admiral, for instance, has more than half a dozen doctors who come through their clinic to serve residents.

4 Cost is a big factor.

Berg and Geigler say that senior healthcare costs can be daunting, which influences where and what kind of care you’re able to receive. 

“I don’t think I’ve seen any skilled nursing facility offering care for less than $9,000 a month,” Berg says. “I’ve seen it go as high as $15,000 per month.” 

Geigler says that the cost of assisted living also starts around $9,000 and can increase, depending on the individual’s needs. Finding benchmarks for CCRCs or independent living facilities, however, can be tricky.

“A good estimate for these facilities is something close to the local market rate for rental units all the way up to over $10,000 per month, depending on the type of community you move into, the contract type you select, and which services are provided,” she says. 

Geigler says that the industry as a whole is cognizant of the financial burden senior care presents and the need to find solutions. “We want to figure out ways to offer everyone, regardless of their means, the best care,” she says.

When considering the best senior living community for your health needs or the needs of a loved one, don’t hesitate to ask questions of the facility to make sure the facility’s offerings meet your goals.