Florida website takes mystery out of choosing quality assisted living facilities

Dr Kathryn Hyer, USF professor and Director of the Florida policy exchange center on aging at the usf school of aging studies

TAMPA, FL (WFLA) – Florida’s Agency for Healthcare Administration has just taken a lot of the guesswork out of choosing a quality assisted living facility with a new website for consumers. http://www.floridahealthfinder.gov/LandingPages/ALF.aspx

“It’s a very big step, and we’re one of the few states that do that,” said USF Professor Kathryn Hyer who runs the Florida Policy Exchange Center on Aging. “This is a brand new important first step.”

The site is cobbling together information scattered about the Internet into a one stop matrix that is easily searchable by location and sortable by 14 different factors that in one way or another should be essential for anyone who is trying to make an informed choice for an assisted living facility in Florida.

There are more than 3000 ALF’s in Florida to choose from, and figuring out the differences until now has been quite a challenge for most people. “It’s a lot easier to navigate,” said District Ombudsman Manager Lynn Pencey who often helps consumers sort through the maze of choices. Volunteers at the Ombudsman program can also help anyone who calls them at 1-888-831-0404.

State Representative Larry Ahern (R) Seminole sponsored the legislation that lead to the AHCA website and believes it’s going to be a big break for folks who want the best care their elders can afford. “Information is power,” Ahern said. He says the website is designed to answer one basic question for Florida consumers. “Is this the best place for my loved ones to go.”

Hyer says the site is a great start but does leave out some critical information such as the cost of care, whether a facility will accept Medicaid when someone’s money runs out and whether it offer’s step up care as people age and their health care needs grow.

Hyer also insists that nothing takes the place of personal site visits once consumers narrow their choices by using the AHCA web tool. “I think you’re looking at how comfortable you would be there,” said Hyer. “You’re looking at the interactions of staff with residents you’re looking at whether the residents are comfortable and whether they’re busy or whether or not they’re sitting alone in their room.”

Hyer says the AHCA website lacks the star rating system Medicare gives to nursing homes, something she hopes will eventually happen to take even more of the guesswork out of choosing an ALF. Ahern said he tried to include that in his legislation, but providers lobbied against it. “Nobody wanted a rating system,” said Ahern.

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