Senior Living and Truth in Advertising

This week, a postcard advertisement came from “A Continuing Care Community,” where my father lives. The heading reads, “Do you know what is included at the Caring Community?” followed by the answer, “These are your costs at the Caring Community” and then the following list:

Property taxes                     $.0.00
Gas or Propane                   $.0.00
Electric                                $.0.00
Homeowners Insurance       $.0.00
Maintenance & Repairs        $.0.00
Sewer & Water                     $.0.00
Basic Cable                         $.0.00
Medical app'sTransport        $.0.00
Three Meals Daily                $.0.00
Movies/Entertainment          $.0.00
Housekeeping Service         $.0.00
Linen and Towel Service      $.0.00
Snow Removal                     $.0.00
Winter Valet Parking            $.0.00
Trips & Activities                  $.0.00
Lawn Care                           $.0.00
*Vehicle insurance               $.0.00
(*if you do not bring a vehicle)

Many of these are indeed included at the institution. But what, if not these, does your $4000 (give or take a few hundred, depending on level of care and other factors) pay for?

So, while one doesn’t get an individual bill for property taxes, gas, electric, insurance, maintenance, sewer, water, and cable, surely the corporation which owns the place gets a bill for these things and passes that on in your $4000. How can they possibly say that these cost you $0.00?

And then, there are a few missing caveats here. For just one example, that medical transportation to appointments? Those are made one day a week only, Mondays say. So if your doctor isn’t in that day, or if for any other reason you need to go on another day, they  will arrange for a private service for that, at about $50 an hour.

Then, too, notice, that you don’t pay vehicle insurance if you don’t have a vehicle, which duh, is true everywhere. And the “Winter Valet Parking” is a mystery to me because I have never seen valet parking there in my two years visiting the place. Perhaps that is also what you do not have to pay if you do not have a car. It is also an expense which virtually no one in Canton, Ohio ever paid before coming there, I would wager.

The “Movies and Entertainment” gets a mixed report on my Truth-O-Meter. Two terrific activities directors do a good job with a small budget. There are concerts, a series of Friday woodworking, morning chat sessions over the morning paper—anything the directors can do themselves or get for free. I will say that similar activities can be found in town for free—at the county parks and libraries—and I can’t imagine seniors would be shelling out much if any money for these things if they weren’t in the Caring Community, but I will grant that the activities directors do the place proud.

As do the cooks, and clearly “Three Meals Daily” is the draw here. The food is good and balanced. It is served individually to each of the 3-4 people at each table, with nice table and linens. Visitors tend to be impressed by the quality and presentation of the food. The desserts are homemade and the party food, on top of the regular meals, tends to be exceptional. The Christmas party, to which family are invited, features huge bowls of shrimp, generous slices of Beef bourguignon, homemade cookies, wine. AND, in addition to the three meals a day, there is a coffee hour with snacks very morning, snacks delivered to the room one to two times a day, cocktail parties and other holiday parties, and every bingo game or spelling bee gives away packages of candy and cookies and chips. All of this is terrific for seniors who are wasting away in their homes. Others, who led active lives and maintained their weight previously can have significant weight gain and resulting diabetes. Exercise is hard to come by.

However, I get tired of hearing people say, “I wish I could eat there every day with tablecloths and cloth napkins.” How about with difficult table mates? One man was so mean thathe made every meal an attack on his tablemates and the staff. When he snapped at the staff, they would laugh it off, as though he were joking, “Oh John, you are such a kidder!” When I ate at his table once, the man told me he did not like my looks, and he said this to one other table mate. Then there was the man who had a card at his place that said, “I will not grab people’s bodies in inappropriate ways. I will not say inappropriate things to the women.” He never said anything inappropriate to me, but he was gone in a month. Which is not to say he was dead, rather disappeared. In that sense, the dining room reminds me of Argentina in the 1970s.

Because tablemates and hallmates disappear frequently. For privacy reasons, the institutions cannot tell the residents what has happened to residents who disappear, and to anyone who is sentient, it is the least comfortable part of the dining experience, having tablemates or hallmates suddenly gone without knowing what has happened.
It is true that I take a dim view of senior institutions. I’ve never been comfortable living in institutionalized settings. The college dormitories nearly drove me to distraction, especially in the late 1960s when they were as controlling as the senior institutions are today. For sure, having to sign in and out every time I left the campus, even if only to walk to the drugstore four blocks away made me crazy at Otterbein U, so I would find it very aggravating after a lifetime of not signing out.

I understand that some people thrive in senior institutions, and this particular Caring Community is one of the best in town. The people who work there, cleaning, cooking, and providing activities are nearly all kind, caring, and cheerful. I know many people here who look forward to the day when they can move to this institution and not pay for these items which the Caring Community is giving away so generously.

I an just suggesting that before they move in, they spend some time there with the residents and not as a visitor to the lavish luncheons. Make sure they visit Skilled and Assisted as well as Independent because there is a big probability they will end up in all these situations, if their money holds out that is. (The Caring Community does not accept Medicare.) Consider whatever other options there may be, if there are any. Most of all, do not be snowed by ads like this list of what you don’t pay for. Figure out what your own costs are. Then if you like it, as many people do, well you go.

But as for me, as my mother used to say, “Just shoot me first.”