First impressions can go a long way when evaluating an assisted living or memory care community — and it’s important to gather as much information as possible and trust your instincts or your gut sense of whether a community is a good fit for your loved one and your family. You can also gain valuable insights from consumer reviews of the community. But one thing many people overlook is the question of consistency: Has the community you’re considering been noted for providing good care and a supportive, healthy environment year after year?
This matters, of course, because your loved one is going to be putting down roots in this new community, where you hope she’ll live happily for a long time to come. And you don’t have to make this decision in the dark — there are indicators that can help you assess how well a community maintains its high standards.
In 2015, we also started recognizing those communities that have earned the Caring Stars service excellence award for three or more years of the program’s history. Here, we list these “Caring Super Stars,” followed by common themes among super communities that win the Caring Stars award year after year.
All of the Caring Stars — not just the Super Stars — have been praised by consumers for providing service excellence. What else stands out about those who’ve earned this distinction year after year? Here are some common themes among the 33 Super Star communities of 2015:
1. Sunny Climates Reign Supreme
Among the states with the most Caring Super Stars, four have lots of sunshine year-round: California, Florida, Arizona, and Texas. Some scientific studies have even correlated warm weather and sunshine to happiness and longer life. So it’s no surprise to see so many Caring Super Stars in sunny places. “I like the location, and I know that it is the best place for my mom,” said a family caregiver of her mom’s Super Star community in Texas. “It was very bright, cheerful, clean, and it had a very nice environment,” said another reviewer of a Super Star community in California.
2. Staffing Makes a Significant Difference
Ask Kent Mulkey, executive director of Keystone Place at Legacy Ridge, to pick one reason his community has earned the Caring Star award for three years, and he answers without hesitation: “Our staff.” The bottom line is, “It’s the people who create the community,” he says. “You can have beautiful grounds, delicious meals, and every amenity and activity you can think of, but it’s the staff who create the everyday experience of living there.”
Finding and training great staff takes time and dedication, and it’s not just about background and experience, says Mulkey. “We care about skills, sure, but we can teach those. We can’t teach personality. We want to know who people are.”
We know this focus also matters greatly to consumers. For instance, in an analysis of the most-used words in reviews in Caring.com’s Senior Care Directory for 2013 and 2014, we found that “staff” and “people” were most commented upon — more so than the building, activities, and amenities. This was true even when we reduced the analysis to just the reviews of assisted living and memory care communities. So it makes sense that communities focused on hiring and retaining the best employees would be among those communities earning consumer praise for service excellence year after year.
“I was impressed with the way they took care of my mom and the relationship between the residents and the staff,” said one family member of a resident at The Montebello on Academy. Said another of the same community, “While he was dying, the care from the staff and residents was incredible. So much support, hugs, and genuine caring for me and him. At the twilight of his life, he was well cared for and he was loved by the staff.”
3. Some National Brands Stand Out for Excellence
Take a look at the Caring Super Stars of 2015 list above, and you’ll see that some national senior living companies have multiple communities that earned the excellence award in three or more years, including Brookdale Senior Living, Atria Senior Living, and Elmcroft Senior Living.
Said one reviewer of Brookdale Gaines Ranch, “For eight years I have been providing aid and support to my 96-year-old parent, whom I moved from another city to be closer to a family member. I have visited and witnessed eight to ten other comparable assisted living facilities in the surrounding area. With the eight years of longevity in this facility, it has proven to be one of the finest, most attractive, and well-appointed retirement/independent living/assisted living centers in the Austin area.”
Said another family caregiver of Elmcroft of Arlington, “Having to move my mother out of her home and place her with strangers is probably the hardest decision that I have ever made. It is a responsibility that I did not take lightly. Moving her to Elmcroft was the best decision that I could have made for her and for me. The people at Elmcroft treat her like she is their family and for that I will be forever grateful.”
And these were just a couple of the many positive comments all three companies’ communities received from those they serve.
4. Only One Can Also Be Great
Not all of the Caring Super Stars are part of multi-location, national chains. In fact, five are small businesses operating a single-location community. They’re proving year after year that you don’t have to be a large chain with extensive resources to be able to deliver the high-quality experience that consumers love.
“I’m a nurse and my colleague mentioned Dodge Park and I Googled it. It was love at first sight!” said one adult daughter of her mother’s community, Dodge Park Rest Home. “Dodge Park is just a perfect fit for her, because the place is not that big. She does not get overwhelmed. It’s a family environment.”
5. Consumer Feedback is a Priority
What every single Caring Super Star — and Caring Star — community has done is to actively ask for feedback from residents and their family members. And not just once but regularly, to help ensure that they’re delivering on their service mission and learning more about opportunities for further improvement. In order to qualify for Caring Stars consideration, these communities had to receive a handful of positive reviews each year, and achieve an overall high score across all ratings they received for all time. Caring Super Stars have done that for three or more years since the Caring Stars program launched in 2012.
These communities also take the time to respond to reviews they receive on Caring.com. “I appreciate you taking the time to tour our community. We pride ourselves on having a warm, cozy, residential family atmosphere and on providing the highest quality of services and living possible under the individual circumstances. It would be my pleasure as owner and administrator to be of any service possible in the future,” wrote Martin Seltzer of Chester Street Residence.