Choosing An Assisted Living Facility: Paying Attention To The "Small Stuff"

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Choosing A Facility: Noticing The Small Stuff

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Summary: The small things count, and give a glimpse into the bigger picture. What’s happening in the front of the house is almost certainly happening behind the scenes…and then some

Small problems and big facility issues I used to be a “foodie” in my former life – a restaurant manager working 16+ hours a day, schlepping sustenance to the elite of a swanky resort-town in Colorado. It was a “not so fun” life – for me….to put it mildly. Never a weekend or holiday off, and some days, not even a break for lunch or a meal. 16 hours on your feet, to go home and not sleep well, or at all, just to come in and do it all over again the next day, arriving usually before the sun is up. My clothes always smelled of the sauce du jour and burned something-or-another.

On the bright side – I did learn a few things in my time in the hospitality industry – things that I believe are very relevant, if not more, to the assisted living & long-term-care industry. Really, both are “hospitality” – and both have a customer, or client. However, in the assisted living, or long-term care environment, there is little room for mistakes. In a restaurant, if the pasta is cold, we can simply make a new one, or heat up the plate without too much trouble or fuss (usually). In an assisted living facility, if you give a resident the wrong medication, it can cost much more than a negative word in the comments/suggestion box – it can be a matter of life and death.

What I learned, mostly, in my days working for some very highly regarded hotels and restaurants, is that the small things count, and give a glimpse into the bigger picture.

What’s happening in the front of the house is almost certainly happening behind the scenes…and then some

There’s a light bulb missing! My last stint as a restaurant/banquets manager is really what made me re-evaluate my career path. The hotel that I was working in was very highly regarded..from a guest point of view. From an employee point of view, maybe not so much. This hotel had extraordinarily high standards, but was consistently short staffed.

My boss was not one to overlook any detail. We would have to put on several banquets, plated dinners and dessert parties, all at once. The plated dinners would be sometimes for upwards of 1000 people, and sometimes black-tie affairs. I would be in charge of dozens of staff – waiters, busboys, set-up crews and the like. At any point in the day, I was already on overtime, tired, and hungry, with no time for a break. For the most part, in my view, we usually pulled this off night after night…pretty well. We’d make sure every piece of silverware was polished, every lemon-wedge cut perfectly, and nothing was missed…or so we thought.

I’d get a call on the radio – right at crunch time – from my persnickety, retentive boss to meet him across the property so he could show me something. I knew exactly what that meant. I’d arrive, sweat running down my forehead, anxious about the Prime Rib station not being manned at the party up in the convention hall – and my boss would show me a light bulb that was out. That’s it. Sometimes, he’d almost yell at me for it. Who knows – the bulb could have gone out in the past five minutes, right as he was walking by. Or, he could have put a dead one in there, just so he could make a point with me – he was a bit sinister in that way.

I really despised him (at the time) – but, now, years later, I realized that he had a point – perception is everything, and even the smallest of things count. If the perception is that things are being forgotten in plain view of the public eye, it can only be imagined what is being forgotten in the back where more important things are happening – food handling, bill paying, and the like.

This time in my life has forced my perception of every business to be a little more calculated, and I believe when it comes to businesses like healthcare, and long-term care – the small things are ever-so-much more relevant. Anything forgotten or neglected in a facility should be considered a red-flag warning to investigate further. Imagine visiting an assisted living facility to check it out as a possible place for your mother, who is ailing from Alzheimer’s, and has severe food allergies – to witness the public area a mess, the staff smoking outside in plain view of the public eye, and…heaven forbid – light bulbs missing everywhere? What you should be thinking is “What is happening that I can’t see?” Are there light bulbs missing in resident rooms, where a trip or a fall could be catastrophic to someone using a walker? Is the food being handled properly, or is the staff smoking in the kitchen? Is the resident who is severely allergic to nuts getting a piece of cake made with almonds?

Take note of the small stuff. It’s important!

Some of the small things to look for when considering a facility (This is not to minimize, or exclude the biggies, like care provided, proper licensing, health violations, etc!):

1) How does the facility exterior look? Is there a yard, and if so, is it taken care of, or is it overrun with weeds and unkempt?

2) My favorite – light bulbs! Are they missing, especially in common areas? Are the walkways to the facility well-lit?

3) Are there any staff-members smoking in plain view of the public eye?

4) Are the walkways free of clutter and obstacles, inside and out?

5) Are the staff friendly and helpful?

6) Are the staff well dressed and clean shaven?

7) Are the staff easily identified as “staff” – with a proper uniform, and nametags?

8) Are your phone calls and other correspondences with the facility returned promptly and courteously?

9) Are the main entryways secured and monitored?

10) How is the temperature in the facility – too hot or too cold?

11) Are the carpets in good shape, or are there snags and tears that might cause a fall?

12) Do the staff look happy or miserable?

My experiences in the hospitality industry did lead me to re-evaluate my career path. I obviously didn’t have it “in me” to work the long hours, work holidays and weekends, and at the same time tend to every detail down to the last salt shaker – day in and day out.

Some people do have it in them, though – and those are the people you really need working in an assisted living facility – They have to love what they do – by living, breathing and dreaming about it most days of the week, and often-times, most nights. Their co-workers are their family, the facility is their home, and the residents are their children – their babies that need constant care, attention and love.

If you have these extraordinary, and rare individuals working in a facility, the details…or ‘small stuff’ will most certainly be taken care of.

– by the staff at Assisted Living Directory

Light Missing Assisted

Responses to this article:

Lucy Wrote:

A ‘small thing’ that made a difference was how the facility smelled when we toured. One facility had lovely fragrant candles burning in the kitchen that made the whole place smell lovely and homey!

12 June 2012 at 2.35 pm

Sid Wrote:

My pet peeve is staff who don’t shave, or look disheveled and unprofessional. That is a sure sign to me that there are issues rolling downhill from the management-end.

16 November 2011 at 2.32 pm

Ginger Wrote:

Your observations are great – I used to be a restaurant worker back east for years, and what you say is absolutely the truth. If the front of the house was a mess, behind the kitchen doors wasn’t any better for sure.

28 September 2009 at 7.22 pm