Who is Tony?
Early in my career I worked as a reporter, for papers in Florida and Michigan, the Associated Press in Atlanta, and the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. One of the most important lessons I learned was that a reporter is only as good as his sources and my Rolodex became vital to my work. That would prove especially true as I became involved in Elder Care. My journalism career culminated with my writing a book, (Gunning for Justice, Doubleday, 1984 ) with Gerry Spence, the great Wyoming trial lawyer and champion of the downtrodden. Reporting was my favorite work but I left journalism after the Spence book because it is difficult to feed and college four kids on a reporter’s salary. I built four businesses — two duds but two successful enough that I could retire to Arizona in 2008.
How I became involved in Elder Care
Like so many before me, I first became involved in Elder Care by taking care of my parents at the end of their lives. I was in LA. They were in Miami. So it was constant calling, arranging, checking up, making monthly trips across the country. My mom was easy. She was in a caring assisted living community where she had lived for five years. My dad was a catastrophe. He had prostate cancer and a catheter hanging off his hip that needed draining. He had long since stopped paying bills that were now piled unopened on the kitchen table. There was a lawsuit pending. Broke and proud, he resisted any professional help. I had to disguise a periodic caregiver as a maid to get her in the door. I knew he needed to be in assisted living but finding one — the right one — seemed overwhelming. How do you find the good facilities? How do you evaluate them? How do we find a place our family could afford?
My parents — 30 years divorced — died within weeks of each other before I could find the right place for my dad. (When I told my dad my mom was gone, he wept for the first time since my brother died 20 years earlier. Dad died 18 days later.) Years later, after retiring, I began volunteering to help seniors — driving them to doctors appointments and the grocery store — and the exact same issue resurfaced: I had befriended two homebound seniors — a 98-year-old widow living alone in North Phoenix who had started falling and a 76-year-old blind man dying of lung cancer — and both needed to be in assisted living. How was I to find the right place for these seniors? I picked up the phone and started calling. I talked to people across the spectrum of end-of-life care, doctors, nurses, social workers, geriatric care managers, senior care placement specialists, elder care lawyers. hospice people, geriatricians, senior community marketers. Four simple lessons learned about finding end-of-life care:
- Finding the right assisted living or memory care is terrain best not navigated alone.There are a myriad of issues to be addressed, care level, costs, family matters and it is next to impossible for newcomers to assess which of the hundreds of homes in your community is right for your senior.
- Senior Housing Referral web sites are of little or no benefit because they simply eblast your name out to dozens of facilities who will then contact you by phone or email and try to sell you on their facilities. You are still left on your own to visit, evaluate and negotiate with these facilities; the so-called family advisors from these sites are really quota-driven sales people who have seldom — if ever — visited these homes and are primarily responsible to “close” you on a home — any home — so the site can get its referral fee.
- The best, most cost effective solution for families in need of senior housing is the free service of Senior Placement Advocates. They are in and out of facilities constantly to evaluate them. They contract with the best facilities. Advocates meet with families personally to assess needs and take families on tours of the homes that best meet those needs. And finally, Advocates negotiate for the best prices and terms.
- The best way to find these qualified professionals is to get referrals from other professionals who actually use their services frequently. Their own professional reputations at stake, doctors, nurses, social workers, discharge planners and elder lawyers refer to advocates who make successful placements.
I wrote these conclusions the week I turned 66. I realized the old reporter in me had resurfaced and that the information I was gathering was valuable to families searching for senior housing. So I created Tony’s Rolodex to find the best Senior Housing Advocates in your community. While I had long since abandoned my Rolodex for a computerized file system, I named this new service Tony’s Rolodex as a tip of the hat to the solid reporting behind it.
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