Should I Use a Senior Facility Placement Service?

Laura Herman, Dementia and Eldercare Professional
Added: 08.18.2022
11 minutes read
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By Laura Herman, Elder and Dementia Care Professional


Senior facility placement services are popular options for older adults and their families who need help finding the right senior living setting. At no charge to you, they’ll simplify and clarify your options and help you locate your perfect senior living home – it sounds too good to be true. Is it?

In this article, we’ll examine senior facility placement services (sometimes also called assisted living placement agencies, senior housing advisors, senior living community referral services, assisted living locators, placement management services, or other such variations of these terms). We’ll discuss the pros and cons of these referral services and offer some tips on using these agencies wisely. 

Senior Living Referral Agencies: The Upsides

Some senior living referral agencies offer many benefits. They’re familiar with senior living options in their area and with the senior living industry in general. They know how to navigate the system. Their guidance can quickly narrow down an overwhelming list of options into a handful of top prospects. This can save you valuable time, energy, and money, and greatly reduce the stress of this enormous undertaking.

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Pros:
  • They can dramatically streamline the search. They can provide a great deal of specific information about a wide array of facilities in minutes, sparing you days worth of phone calls or tours with individual facilities. 
  • They’ll generally do the footwork to find out answers to any questions they don’t already know. 
  • There’s typically no charge to the senior or their family.
  • They can sometimes negotiate discounts or better rates on your loved one’s behalf.
  • They can offer guidance in how to sign up for an appropriate level of care, so your loved one won’t end up paying for more services than they really need.

Senior Living Referral Agencies: The Drawbacks

Senior living referral services also have a few key drawbacks. The reason they don’t charge seniors is that they’re paid by the facilities when someone they refer moves in. This can create a conflict of interest and incentivize them to get your contact information to potential facilities as quickly as possible – with their name attached as the referral source. 

There’s also a generalized lack of oversight and regulation in this industry and some agencies tend to quickly refer to the first places they can in order to secure payment and move on.

Cons:
  • Most referral agencies won’t refer you to a non-contracted facility, even if it’s potentially a better fit.
  • While some agencies sincerely do want to make sure that the facility is a good fit for each individual, others tend to make referrals as quickly as they can – without regard for the quality or fit – simply to maximize profits. 
  • Many referral services share your information with facilities in the area that may start calling you directly to follow up on the lead.

TIP: If facilities call you to follow up and you don’t feel ready to speak to them, tell them you’re working with the placement agency at this time and don’t wish to speak to them directly just yet. Ask them not to call again – you’ll call them when you’re ready. 

What to Expect from a Senior Placement Agency

When you contact a good senior referral agency, they’ll arrange for an in-person or telephone interview with a coordinator so they can determine what you need. 

It can help to have some of this information ready when you call.

  1. How much / what type of assistance does your loved one need?
  2. Do they need behavioral support or have any special needs?
  3. Do they have dementia or signs of memory loss?
  4. In which city/area are they looking?
  5. What basic price range are you considering? (Affordable vs luxury)
  6. Will your loved one need to use Medicaid or long-term care insurance?
  7. Does your loved one have any particular culture, religion, or language needs or preferences?
  8. Does your loved one prefer a pet-friendly facility?

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Once the coordinator has identified several potential facilities they’ll work with you to set up tours of the top choices. In some cases, they’ll tour the facility with you. They’ll be able to guide you as to which questions to ask the facility and the types of details to look for. 

Some agencies will also help coordinate your move and stay in contact through your loved one’s transition to ensure everything is going smoothly. 

Note that some agencies work solely online, and will contact you minimally, if at all. The value of these services is questionable. 

Tips for Making the Most of a Senior Referral Service

Finding the right living situation is important for the well-being of your loved one, and you’ll have a better chance at doing so with the right agency on your side. The right agency won’t just provide a list of facilities and send you on your way – they’ll take an interest in your loved one’s needs and seem genuinely invested in finding the best place for them. 

Have some questions ready to ask each agency. 

  1. Can you provide a written disclosure statement that describes your services, your relationship with the facilities you refer to, and how you are paid? (An increasing number of states now require they provide this.)
  2. What percentage of facilities in this area are contracted with you?
  3. Do you ever refer to facilities that aren’t contracted with you?
  4. Which types of facilities do you refer to? (Examples: Nursing homes, assisted living, group homes, adult foster homes, memory care)
  5. What kind of qualifications do your coordinators or advisors have? Are they geriatric care managers? How do they know what makes a good fit in a facility?
  6. What can I expect from your process? How long will it take to hear something back?
  7. Will you be sharing my contact information with any facilities? Would you please keep my information confidential? (If this is your wish)
  8. What is your role in setting up tours? Will someone be available to tour with me? 
  9. What exactly does your service cover and when will it end? Will you be available to assist throughout a move? In which ways? How long after move-in will you continue to offer support? What kind of support? What happens if my loved one isn’t happy with the facility?

Note that many areas have multiple referral agency options. You’re not limited to working with only one agency, and it’s a good idea to interview more than one before settling on the agency you like best. Don’t feel obligated to stick with the first company you started with if it turns out they’re not the best fit for your needs. 

  • Some agencies specialize according to facility type, such as memory care, group homes, or assisted living. If you’re sure about the type you need this can be a plus, but in some cases, you might miss out on a good option you hadn’t considered.
  • Different agencies may contract with different facilities. 
  • Some referral services operate on a national or regional level, while others are focused locally. 
  • Different agencies offer different levels of service. Some basically just provide a list of facility names, while others take time to get to know each client’s needs and hold their hand through the entire process. 

Look for promising signs of a dedicated agency, such as: 

  • The coordinator or advisor will accompany you for facility tours.
  • The agency employs geriatric care managers or licensed/certified professionals who take the time to get to know your loved one's needs.
  • The agency/advisor seems highly involved and invested in finding the right place for your loved one, not just the first place.
  • The agency will refer you to non-contracted facilities if it’s a better fit for your loved one.

Do your own due diligence when it comes to verifying the quality of the facility before you decide to move in. While the placement agency can help streamline the process, it’s ultimately up to you to determine whether you’re comfortable with the choice. 

Where to find Placement Referral Agencies

You can search online for “senior living placement agencies near me” (or a more specific term, if applicable, such as “memory care placement agencies near me”). You’re more likely to find the larger, less involved agencies this way.

It’s a good idea to check with local hospitals or healthcare providers to find good local referral agencies, especially if you’re looking for a smaller, home-like living setting or if your loved one is frail or has special needs, such as memory care or behavior support.

Summary

Every senior living community is different, and finding the right place for your loved one is worth every bit of time and effort. However, time and energy are at a premium for family caregivers, and preserving it where possible is not only smart, it’s essential. 

Senior placement services can be excellent tools for streamlining the search for a facility that will fit your loved one just right. There’s no reason not to use one – just be aware that they don’t have every facility at their disposal, and that not all placement services are the same. Ask questions and take the time to ensure you have the right one on your side for the best possible outcome.

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