What to look for in a Retirement Community

Parting reflections by Kendal President & CEO John Diffey upon his retirement in 2016

Over the course of my tenure with Kendal, it has been important to be able to speak to a number of different topics and before a number of different audiences. One of the most important topics has been “What to look for in a Retirement Community.” Among the most important audiences have been prospective residents, attendees at professional conferences, writers preparing books and articles on this subject and the press.

Kendal has a lot of written material that addresses or touches on this subject, so I will not write exhaustively about it here. Instead I will mention the several distinct points that I have made when speaking to groups or when I have been interviewed. They are as follows:

Look carefully at the people and entities that are behind building and/or operating the retirement community. In particular, look to determine:

  • Is the community for-profit or not-for-profit? Really. [Some don’t tell the truth.]
  • Who is on the board? Any material conflicts of interest or cronies?
  • How it is governed? Any residents on the board?
  • What are the stated values of those organizations?
  • Why have they become involved, and what are their goals?

Study the track records of the people and entities behind the community.

  • Study the disclosure statements that are required by state law.
  • See or ask about other projects they have built or managed.
  • Are there, or have there been, any failed projects, distressed communities, bankruptcies?
  • Study the rankings of their skilled nursing facilities at Nursing Home Compare on Medicare.gov.
  • Ask to see audited financial statements and review them with your financial advisor or accountant.
  • Is the community accredited by CARF?

Live in the community for several days before you make a decision.

  • Talk with residents, staff and also board members, if possible.
  • Visit each component of the community—the health care center especially—and observe what people are doing, how they interact and how they are cared for.
  • Imagine how you would fit in and feel in each community you are considering.
  • Is it welcoming, inclusive, respectful, joyful, uplifting, stimulating—the best ones are.

These three things aren’t rocket science. However, they often get overlooked in favor of curb appeal, size and spaciousness of residences, discussions of fees and contract types, and so on. In my experience, audiences understand these points and appreciate the ways in which Kendal distinguishes itself positively in most of these respects. So, as I leave, I pass them along with encouragement to keep them alive in marketing presentations in the future.

Editor’s note: John Diffey served as President and Chief Executive Officer of The Kendal Corporation from 1992 until 2016. Over his 40-year career, Diffey served on the Board of Directors of the 6000+ member nonprofit association LeadingAge, as chair of its committee on Continuing Care Retirement Communities, as a founding co-chair of its leadership development program, as President of its North Carolina affiliate, and as Vice Chair of the Continuing Care Accreditation Commission. Based on his contributions to the field, John received LeadingAge’s highest recognition in 2006, its Award of Honor.