How to Minimize Risks for Elderly Residents
America's elderly population is growing at a fast pace, and almost a third of those 65 and older are living alone, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Is your site prepared to meet the specific needs of your elderly residents?
Accidents in the home are a major source of injuries, which puts safety concerns at the top of the list for elderly residents and their families. Slips and falls are the most common accident-related hazards, says affordable housing risk management consultant Gwen Zander.
While the causes of slips and falls often are not the site owner's responsibility, an ongoing program of education and communication can go a long way toward minimizing potential risks for both the resident (from injury) and the owner (from liability).
To reduce the risk of slips and falls in your site's common areas, make sure that site staff stay alert to and report potentially dangerous conditions, such as wet floors on rainy or snowy days, elevator doors that shut too quickly, broken sidewalks, potholes, loose gravel, uncovered extension cords, nonworking smoke detectors, and poor lighting in stairwells and in outside parking areas.
Hire Service Coordinator
Taking the proper precautions in the site's common areas is a good start, but since the majority of accidents take place within the home, how can you ensure that residents apply the same foresight to their units—especially if residents are reluctant to notify staff about potential hazards out of fear of eviction, or are simply unaware of the risks?
The ideal situation would be to have a service coordinator on site, says Zander. A service coordinator is a staff member who is responsible for ensuring that elderly residents and non-elderly residents with disabilities have access to the support services that they need to continue living independently in the development, such as home health aides or housekeeping services. Service coordinators work with the residents to assess their daily living needs. Although a service coordinator cannot share their case management files with you, they can alert you to health and mobility issues that may pose a safety risk.
EDITOR'S NOTE: HUD's Service Coordinator Program provides funding to enable eligible owners of HUD-assisted housing to hire a service coordinator to serve their residents. Service coordinator grants provide funding for the salary, fringe benefits, and related administrative costs associated with employing a service coordinator. HUD's Management Agent Handbook, 4281.5, Ch. 8, provides the procedures for requesting service coordinator funding and for operating a program in HUD-assisted housing. For more on service coordination, see http://www.hud.gov/offices/hsg/mfh/progdesc/servicecoord.cfm.
Make Safety Education an Ongoing Effort
Whether or not your site employs service coordinators, focus on finding ways to share information about safety issues with your elderly residents. Zander recommends providing continuous safety education opportunities through monthly resident town hall meetings. Bring in speakers from local community organizations to discuss topics of concern—for instance, a representative from the local police department might talk about scams that target the elderly. Other topics she suggests include defensive driving for the elderly, dangers of sharing and/or splitting medications, mental health awareness and abuse issues, drug and alcohol dependency, and renter's insurance coverage.
You don't have to develop your educational tools from scratch. Take advantage of the resources that are already available, says multifamily housing management expert Doug Chasick. For example, the Red Cross offers printed booklets on pool safety for a minimal fee, and safety instructions and recommendations for fitness equipment, saunas, etc., can be obtained from the manufacturers.
To entice residents to attend town hall meetings, Chasick suggests adding a social element to the event—for instance, coupling the training with a holiday, theme, or other special occasion for getting together, such as a Cinco de Mayo celebration or a monthly coffee klatch.
Make Residents Aware of Personal Liability Risks
It is critical that elderly residents understand the importance of maintaining adequate insurance coverage. One of the biggest misconceptions among renters is that their belongings are covered by the site owner's insurance policy in case of a fire or other disaster.
In addition to personal property, many elderly residents are unaware that they are responsible for damage to their units and the site caused by independent contractors, such as home health aides, domestic help, or adult sitters, as well as any injuries to those individuals that might occur on site. That information should be spelled out in the site's house rules, says Zander. To ensure that the resident and his or her service providers understand and agree to abide by the house rules, get them to sign an agreement like our Model Agreement: Safeguard Site with Resident Contractor Agreement.
You can use town hall meetings and community newsletters to educate residents about renter's insurance, which offers coverage for both the resident's personal property as well as personal liability, Zander says.
The benefits of auto insurance can also be reinforced through meetings and newsletters. Elderly residents on a fixed income often decide to drop comprehensive and collision coverage for their vehicles, which can have costly out-of-pocket consequences for the resident. For instance, if a tree branch falls onto a resident's car, the site owner is not responsible for the damage to the vehicle, even if it occurs in the parking lot and the tree is located on the site. (That is, as long as the tree was not dead or the site owner should have known that it was dead or dying.)
Communicate House Rules and Policies in Person
In addition to holding regular community gatherings to discuss safety concerns, make sure that changes to policies and house rules are communicated directly to residents both in writing and face to face, if possible. “You may have long-time residents who are unaware that the house rules have changed several times while they've been living there,” says Zander. Be sure to date-stamp any document that is handed out to residents, including new house rules, addendums, or information about services provided to residents from their service coordinators, she adds.
“With all of the technology at our disposal, I still believe that the most powerful way to communicate those issues is still face to face,” says Chasick. “You have the perfect opportunity every time you sit down with a resident to sign a lease or a lease renewal. Invest another 10 or 15 minutes to include a little training.”
Find Ways to Engage Residents' Family Members
In addition to communicating directly with elderly residents, find ways to keep the resident's family members in the loop regarding house rules, safety concerns, and liability issues. “It is often the adult children of elderly residents who bring suit after an accident or an issue with an independent contractor,” Zander says. “They are often in denial about their parent's aging, and don't understand the changes taking place.”
Take every opportunity to communicate with the resident's family or friends, agrees Chasick. If your site has a growing group of elderly residents, consider sending a print or email newsletter that family members can opt into to keep updated on house rules, safety issues, and what's happening at the site.
Taking a customer-oriented approach offers two key benefits, he says. The immediate benefit is that the family member is kept aware and up to date, and the second is that the person who is receiving the communications will see that it's a great place to live, so it becomes an effective marketing tool.
Doug Chasick, CPM®, CAPS, CAS, Adv. RAM, CLP, SLE: Chief Learning Officer; Senior VP, Multifamily Professional Services, CallSource; (888) 222-1214; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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|Safeguard Site with Resident Contractor Agreement|