How to Pick the Right Assisted Living Community

Finding the right assisted living community for your loved one can be downright daunting. What’s the most important thing to look for when visiting a community? How do you know if your mom or dad needs assisted living vs. memory care? Will your parent be happy there?

 We recently turned to an experienced assisted living administrator to get answers to these and other important questions.

 Jeannette Ruggiero is a licensed nursing home administrator and responsible for all day-to-day operations at OakView Health Center in Thousand Oaks, California. A longtime professional in the retirement community health management field, Jeannette graciously shared her thoughts on how to find the right living situation for your loved one.

 SI:  What is the most important thing to look for when visiting an AL community?

 Jeannette:  First, it’s really good to know what your family member needs, and wants, so you can identify a facility that best meets those needs. Look for a friendly environment. Pay attention to how the staff interacts with you, the residents and each other.

 SI:  Homelike surroundings are something we all want to have. How do you get to the important questions when visiting a facility and not get distracted by the beautiful library, furniture, dining room, landscaping and other amenities?

 Jeannette:  Know which questions to ask before you visit a community. Here are some important ones:

  • Can you show me the results of your last annual survey? (The annual survey is a state requirement.)

  • Can you tell me what training your staff receives and how often? (Training is required upon hire and annually thereafter.)

  • Do you have nurses on site 24/7? (This isn’t required but it can impact what the staff can and cannot do.)

  • How are medications handled? Do I have a choice of pharmacy?

  • What, if any, medical conditions are you unable to accept?

  • What are your staffing ratios and turnover rate?

  • Is your facility secured?

  • How do you respond to resident emergencies?

  • What is your disaster preparedness plan? (This is a state requirement.)

  • How do you develop a plan of care for residents? How often is it updated and how do you communicate it to the family and staff?

  • What services are included in your care program and what is an “extra” charge?

SI:  Outstanding care for your family member is the number one priority, of course. But what about the happiness factor? 

Jeannette:  Residents’ satisfaction is a critical measurement of how good a job the assisted living community is doing. Some key questions to ask include: 

  • Are families allowed to visit and/or take residents out of the facility for an outing?

  • How is the food? Can we join you for a meal? (Advance notice may be appreciated if you make this request.)

  • Tell me about the activities you offer at the facility in addition to outside excursions.

  • Do doctors visit residents in the facility?

  • Are pets allowed?

SI:  What is the difference between assisted living and memory care? Many communities provide both on the same campus. 

Jeannette:  There are several differences between the two. Memory care usually: 

  • Involves a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or other form of dementia.

  • Provides a higher ratio of staff to residents as the level of care is more involved. More one-on-one support is needed to complete daily tasks.

  • Provides a daily routine and offers a calm, secure environment. Activities should be tailored to accommodate that level of care.

  • Requires that a resident have supervision before they can leave the facility.

SI:  Are there online ratings you can review? Yelp? Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services? 

Jeannette:  The Department of Social Services governs assisted living in California. You can search facilities on its website at Select “All Facilities Types” to find the most options.  

Skilled nursing facilities (nursing homes) are rated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. You can search for a particular nursing home by visiting their site at Assisted living is not governed by CMS so these communities are not reviewed by the Medicare site. 

Yelp can be tricky because it has been known to post negative reviews and bury positive ones. Social media can be tough. People who want to complain are often more motivated to post a comment than someone who is happy or satisfied with the care.  

Referral services provide general information and are often free. A great place to start is Or you can try Assisted Living Connections and Allied Senior Living Resources for Southern California referrals.

Click here to download our free guide to selecting the right assisted living community. Please share this post with anyone you know who needs assistance with assisted living!