Ready to explore the senior living market? A senior living advisor can help
By Jill Draper
Ralph Caro estimates there are nearly 170 senior living communities in the Kansas City area that range from independent apartments to assisted living to critical care. Navigating this market can be daunting, especially if a sudden need arises. His own story is an example.
His 68-year-old mother lived on her own until they found her slumped in a chair after suffering a stroke. She was hospitalized, but eventually her Medicare funds ran out. Caro and his sister knew nothing about her finances and had no power of attorney. They hurriedly found an assisted living facility nearby so her church friends could continue to visit. They also found something else.
“She got better care if my sister or I dropped in every day,” Caro says.
Years later, when he retired from a career in community health and started a new business as a senior living advisor, Caro learned his mother would have been entitled to a stipend as a veteran’s spouse. “We could have improved her life those last 11 years, but the place never mentioned it. And the Veterans Administration makes it a closely kept secret.”
In 2016 Caro bought an Ask-Carol franchise, a placement service that helps families explore senior living options. He named it Senior Living Concierge Services. With Baby Boomers retiring in droves (some say 10,000 per day in the U.S.), these types of services are on the upswing. A similar national franchise, A Place for Mom, opened an office last January in Overland Park, where an Assisted Living Locators franchise already was operating.
Clients are provided free advice, and the placement service receives a commission (typically 50% to 100% of the first month’s fee) from the senior living community when a client signs a contract.
Caro tours each facility he recommends, and drawing on his experience with his mom, he also drops in unannounced. “I talk to residents and see if staff members look happy or not,” he says. “I also look for social interactions—are there crafts, gardens, activities and field trips, or are people parked in front of a TV all day? It’s kind of like a reconnaissance mission.”
He consults with clients about their resources to determine what they can afford. “I try to match each one with a quality community, but not always a Rolls-Royce one,” he says. “That’s a big difference between my business and others. When I call a marketing manager, they know a client can pay. If they’ve been truthful with me, I have their pricing.”
If he finds a client is eligible for a veteran’s stipend (a surviving spouse can receive up to $1,209 per month), he recommends hiring an attorney to help navigate the 60-page application. And if a client has very little money, he refers them to a Section 8 senior housing assistance expert.
On the opposite end, he says clients who have long term health insurance and good pensions can look for luxury facilities with five-star chefs, noting he placed a husband and wife who were ready for assisted living in a place that charges $8,800 per month.
After interviewing a client, he typically suggests several communities for them to tour and a list of 10 questions to ask, including the ratio of staff to residents, both during the day and at night and on weekends.
Caro, who lives in the Newcastle neighborhood in south KC, says when it’s his time to move, he’ll look for a continuum of care community that includes long-term care, memory care and hospice—or at least some combination of those specialties.
He says now is a challenging time and business is slow. Communities are restricting visitors because of Covid-19 fears, and many have stopped offering tours.
“I’m an eternal optimist, but I don’t see any blue sky ahead until there’s a vaccine,” he says. “At some point there will be a lot of pent-up demand.”