Welcome to Assisted Living Land, Folks!
To Boost Customer Service, Some Assisted Living Trainees Are Getting Lessons From the Mouse
By Beth Baker
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, October 14, 2003; Page HE01
Can the folks who brought us Mickey, Goofy and Cruella De Vil help improve the quality of life for people in assisted living facilities?
That's a question raised by an internship offered by the program in assisted living administration at George Mason University (GMU). In addition to assignments at assisted living facilities, students in the program may now apply to spend a semester working in a customer service role at Disney World.
"Assisted living is one-half hospitality, one-half health care and one-half housing," explains Andrew Carle, assistant professor and coordinator of the program -- and, no, he doesn't teach math. "First and foremost, it's home. But [residents] wouldn't be there if they didn't need help. Then there's dining, concierge, housekeeping, maintenance and transportation that are hospitality. No one focuses on these like Disney."
The assisted living philosophy promotes individual autonomy, privacy and dignity. It is an alternative for elderly or disabled people who are unable to safely live independently but do not need the medical services provided in nursing homes.
Residents live in private apartments, but most receive assistance with activities such as bathing and dressing. Meals are typically served by staff in a restaurant-style dining room. The facilities may also offer social and recreational opportunities, from movies and live shows to sports and educational presentations. Other services may include laundry, medication management, emergency call systems, housekeeping and transportation.
These amenities come with a hefty price tag -- from $25,000 to more than $60,000 a year, depending on location and level of services. Most residents pay from their savings or income because health insurance generally does not cover this type of care.
"Assisted living is successful because people like it and choose it," says Terry Klaassen, founder and chief cultural officer of McLean-based Sunrise Senior Living, the nation's largest operator of assisted living facilities. "It meets a lot of people's needs."
In 2001, Sunrise gave GMU seed money to help start its assisted living administration program.
The number of assisted living facilities has doubled nationally in just five years to 32,000 locations housing more than 1 million people. The growth was so rapid that staff training lagged behind.
An April 2003 report to the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging by a task force representing industry, consumer and regulatory groups found that "the need for appropriate staff training is imperative in order to meet the needs of [assisted living] residents." The GMU program is designed to help meet this training need.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company