We recently sat down with Nicole Pazdan of Elder Placement Professionals in San Luis Obispo. Nicole told us a little about what she does, as well as how people can be better prepared should they or a loved one ever need to transition from independent living to care services.

Question #1: Nicole, what does an elder placement professional do?

We help families navigate the complicated process of finding the next step of care, which begins with sitting down with the family to understand what’s going on with their loved one, can he or she do things such as cook, clean or drive? What are their medical needs and what’s their budget? Do they have preferences? How active are they socially, do they want to keep cooking, cleaning, or driving, and what area they want to live in? Do they have pets they want to take with them? These are all important factors.

After working with the family, I visit with and evaluate the loved one myself by sitting down with him or her and asking the same questions for me so I can find out about them personally. Then, based on my evaluation, we’ll develop a list of facilities that best meet their needs, and I will take the decision maker to visit those facilities. From there we’ll work together to make the best decision.

It’s important to understand that we don’t just help with placement, but with the transition. So we help with the necessary medical paperwork to get into the facility. We help line up physical therapy referrals. Do they need medical or nonmedical transport? We can help with that, too. We help with medical equipment. We help with the actual moving process, including finding movers. We even help with finding someone who will come in and decorate. And then once the loved one is moved in, I go back in personally and check on them and make sure that all is going well.

Wow, so you’re not just ‘finding a good retirement home.’ You’re actually guiding the family and the loved one through the entire transition process. Is that right?

That’s exactly right. We help with any resources they need to make the transition to this brand new phase of life. So the service we provide is really comprehensive.

Do you help families explore all the different elder-care options—such as in-home care, for example—or just facilities?

Every available option, absolutely. We will definitely let them know if we believe that care in the home is a great opportunity for them, and recommend agencies.

Question #2: How do you select the best care option for a given client? What are some of the things that you’re looking for to help make that decision?

Care needs is the most important thing. What does the loved one need or not need? Obviously when I start to get a closer look at them personally and I understand the kind of life they’re used to living, I want to get them in a similar quality of life. But truly the most important aspect of this stage of their life is care.

So, for instance, if I notice they have imbalance or memory issues, maybe even more so than the family recognizes, I know they’re going to need a community that can really help those with stability or cognitive needs. Because the sad reality is that those things don’t get better with age. They usually get worse.

But care is the main focus. What does the loved one need? And because of our expertise and the fact that I’m in and out of these homes every single day, I believe Elder Placement Professionals is uniquely equipped to help answer that question.

It’s also important for people to know that we thoroughly vet every facility, so we know exactly what their strengths are, what they offer and don’t offer, and even whether or not they’ve had issues like neglect charges. It’s critical for us that the family feels comfortable with the place that their loved one is in. And I’m so familiar with every elder-care facility in San Luis Obispo County that, as soon as I get an inquiry and begin talking to the family, I’m immediately able to start formulating an idea about what the best place for the loved one is going to be.

Question #3: How young was the youngest person that you’ve ever placed, and how common is it that you place people under, say, 50 years of age?

The youngest person we’ve ever placed was just 41 years old. In the last 12 years, though, there have only been a handful under 50. So it’s pretty rare, but it does happen. Things like traumatic brain injury, or early onset of Alzheimer’s disease, or sometimes even MS (multiple sclerosis) can require placement.

Question #4: How many care facilities are there in San Luis Obispo County?

Well, there are over 150 different facilities on the Central Coast, which stretches from Paso Robles in SLO County to Santa Maria in Santa Barbara County, but there are actually four basic kinds of care options. First, there’s independent living. Second, you have assisted living which includes board and care, which is a kind of smaller-scale assisted living with more of a one-on-one focus. Third, you have nursing home, and lastly, there’s Alzheimer’s care, or “memory care units.”

What does Alzheimer’s care look like?

Typically, Alzheimer’s communities are peaceful, well-maintained communities where those with Alzheimer’s are free to wander about at their own discretion in a secure, controlled environment. And because the community is secure, residents can’t unwittingly leave the community where they might become a danger to themselves or to someone else. So it’s really a perfect place for people with those kinds of needs.

Question #5: How does insurance come into play when you’re trying to help a family decide on the best elder-care option for a loved one?

The only insurance that comes into play for all these facilities is long-term care insurance, period. Medicare does not pay [for long-term care], Blue Cross does not pay, some people get assistance with veteran benefits, and Medi-Cal will pay for custodial long-term care for those that meet the maximum-allowable income, but that maximum is very low, and have to meet specific standards for needs.

Essentially, if someone doesn’t have long-term care insurance, their care will most likely have to come directly out of someone’s pocket. And a lot of seniors don’t have these policies so it can be tough for them.

For so many of my seniors, if they had not had long-term care insurance, their choices would be limited. Either they or the family bears the financial burden out-of-pocket—whether it’s savings, or credit cards, or taking out a second mortgage—or hopefully the loved one qualifies for a nursing home.

What advice would you give someone to prepare them for the possibly of needing that kind of care?

If I could give somebody one single piece of advice, unless they’re independently wealthy, I would tell them to get long-term care insurance. There are simply no guarantees in life, be prepared.

Do you have any special offers for anyone who might be reading?

Well, all our services are free to anyone. They can contact us anytime for free and immediate help. The families and individuals we help never have to pay a dime for our services. So I guess you could say we always have a promo going! [laughs…]

Well, thank you so much for your time today, Nicole. It’s been a real pleasure talking with you and learning more about your business.

Thank you, the pleasure’s all mine!

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