By Ann Sperring
October 14, 2009
At age 87, Margaret Schlotter displays a razor-sharp mind, affording her the ability to participate in engaging discussions about her primary pastime.
“I love to read, but non-fiction. I especially love history, and I find fiction boring,” said the retired business executive.
But that same mind — the one that can transport her through geography, history or biography — short circuits on short-term memory. Her physical capacities are waning as well, and she can no longer safely perform all the tasks required to live independently.
In many ways, Schlotter is a typical assisted living facility resident.
Then there is Jane G., 90 years old and white-haired. She is everyone's Granny and smiles constantly. With each new face — and every face is new, regardless how many times she has seen it — she looks up with hope in her eyes.
“Have you seen my son? Are you here to take me home? My son is coming today, you know,” she says.
In her own way, Jane also is a typical ALF resident.
The 27 residential care “homes” in Marion County, which house from six to more than 60 occupants, strive to bridge the gap between independent and facilitated lifestyles without making the residents feel institutionalized.
“We are focused on making the resident feel this is his or her home,” said Bertha Montanez, administrator of Hawthorne Inn at Surrey Place. “There are multiple laws that enforce residents' rights and our responsibilities, but it comes down to care and compassion. That must come from the administration, the staff and the support the families provide their loved ones.”
The Florida Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, with more than 400 volunteers, aims to help improve the lives of people who live in long-term care settings such as nursing homes, assisted living facilities and adult family care homes. The program observes Residents' Rights Month each October.
Local assisted living facilities range from independently owned sites such as McIntosh Assisted Living to corporately owned, multi-site locations like Hampton Manor.
Hawthorne, where Schlotter lives, is licensed for 36 beds. It incorporates features common to all assisted living facilities, and like its sister venues strives to achieve its own brand of “home-like” atmosphere.
Most assisted living facilities offer private or semi-private rooms, with some clients opting for private bedrooms with a shared bath and a small common living area.
“We allow each resident to decorate their room and often bring their own furniture. They can each contribute to the common living area as personalization of the living environment is essential to establishing a sense of home,” Montanez said.
Various agencies are in place to monitor the welfare of ALF residents.
“We are dedicated to resident care and safety. We monitor facilities and will respond to any complaint filed by or on the behalf of any resident,” said Marilyn Anderson, ombudsman manager with the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program, Withlacoochee Area, District Four, which covers Marion.
“The majority of our facilities are doing an excellent job, but recent economic setbacks have affected service industries across the board. If corporate belt tightening transfers into jeopardizing residents' safety or welfare, we want to know,” Anderson added.
Along with the Department of Children and Families and the Agency for Health Care Administration, the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program monitors residents care and rights; however, according to Anderson and Montanez, the resident and their loved ones are often the most effective spokespersons.
“The involvement of family or friends is critical to the resident's rights and can play into their physical health. Just like any industry, there are going to be a few bad apples in the ALFs. Families can spot problems much quicker because they know the resident best. Changes in mood or appearance should be immediately addressed with the staff.
“Sometimes there is no family and the third-party compliance agencies are an excellent resource and advocate for those residents,” Montanez said.
The decision to seek assisted living for a loved one is often difficult for the family and the individual. For County Commissioner Barbara Fitos, whose father resides in a local ALF, it was “a joint decision with everyone participating that wished to be involved, and most importantly, my dad.”
“If it were not for the availability of quality assisted living, I would not be blessed to have dad with me today. His living in a safe, protective environment that allowed him to retain his independence gave us both peace of mind,” Fitos said.
Schlotter retains ownership of her condominium, with the goal and hope of returning to it. The former Wall Street exec is bullish on her future, noting it “takes a little mental planning and a whole lot of praying some days.
“I have no immediate family, but I have faith and friends. The staff here is excellent and if I can't recover sufficiently to return home, I believe I will be well cared for,” she said. “But, I need more books.”
Editor's note: Jane G. does not have a son. Her last name was withheld because she is not able to sign a HIPPA release.