Assisted Living Options for Senior Citizens: Empowering Students to Advocate for Elders

The Liberal Arts & Sciences Student Organization (LASSO) hosted its final Social Entrepreneurship Salon (SES) for the 2017-2018 semester, titled “Assisted Living for Seniors,” on Thursday, March 29, 2018, from 3:30 – 5:50 in Riverfront Hall.

The panel for this event included Natosha Pitchford from Alternatives, an advocacy group for residents of assisted living and long-term care facilities, as well as representatives from Friendship Manor and Heritage Woods, two local Quad Cities assisted living options. Those involved had the shared goal of providing information to students that would empower them to advocate on behalf of the elder members within their own families, as well as in the larger Quad Cities community.

Dr. James Rabchuk, facility sponsor of LASSO and the SES series, set the stage for this event with the following quote from Dr. Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal: “Our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and the aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; that the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life.”

Dr. Leslie O’Ryan, Professor of Counselor Education at the Quad Cities campus,

Dr. O'Ryan
Dr. Leslie O’Ryan, Professor of Counselor Education at WIU-QC

built on that quote by presenting some of the latest research and statistics concerning aging and elder care.  Dr. O’Ryan explained that, according to the World Health Organization, the current understanding is that only 20% of the way a person ages is determined by genetics, the other 80% is a combination of psychosocial factors.  Some of the psychosocial factors that can extend the quality and length of life include continued engagement and activity, a sense of control or autonomy, the ability to maintain one’s identity, and a feeling of purpose.

Conversely, the three biggest contributors to a poor quality of life for seniors are loneliness, helplessness, and boredom.  Dr. O’Ryan pointed out that boredom, in this sense, cannot be resolved by a series of “meaningless activities” or just “staying busy,” but rather, seniors need to be engaged in activities that give them a sense of purpose.

Both Friendship Manor and Heritage Woods expressed their commitment to keeping seniors engaged, active, as independent as possible, and helping them to be a part of their communities in a meaningful way.  Friendship Manor is a faith-based, non-profit senior community located on 21st Avenue in Rock Island, IL.  They offer independent living apartments and villas, assisted living apartments, skilled nursing and rehab facilities, as well as a memory care unit, serving a total of about 300 residents.

Their independent and assisted living housing is private-pay, but they do offer a “Life Care Guarantee” to their residents which guarantees that once a senior moves into the Friendship Manor community, they will be able to live out their lives in that community, even if they run out of funds.  Friendship Manor will cover their costs through charitable care donations.

Dr. O'Ryan and Ted Pappas
Dr. Leslie O’Ryan and Ted Pappas, CEO of Friendship Manor

Ted Pappas, CEO of Friendship Manor, detailed some of the other work that Friendship Manor is engaged in to try to allow Quad Cities seniors to stay in their own homes for as long as possible, including in-home nursing and Meals on Wheels.  These programs may seem to be counter-intuitive, given that Friendship Manor depends on seniors moving out of their own homes and into assisted living situations, but as Mr. Pappas explained, their mission is to serve the senior population of the Quad Cities in the best ways possible, and studies have shown that the longer seniors can remain living independently in their own homes (as long as they maintain their connections with family and the community) the better off they will be.  Friendship Manor is there to assist seniors when that level of independence is no longer possible.

To that end, they offer a program called “Friendship Connection” where seniors living independently in the Quad Cities can join in on the various activities provided by Friendship Manor to make friends and ease the transition when the time comes that they do need to move into an assisted living space.

Heritage Woods of Moline, located on 46th Avenue Drive, Moline, is an assisted or “supportive living” facility owned and operated by Gardant Management Solutions. They offer private apartments and provide meals, nursing services, medication management, housekeeping, and other support services.  Their primary demographic is seniors of lower income, and while they do have some private-pay residents, they mostly serve seniors on Medicaid.

Kelly Dodd of Heritage Woods

Kelly Dodd from Heritage Woods explained how their goal is to keep seniors as independent as possible and to provide the support they need to delay the move to a nursing home (or skilled nursing facility) for as long as possible.  Heritage Woods, like Friendship Manor, provides a long list of community activities for their residents including painting, crafts, music therapy, pet therapy, and they have even partnered with Skip-A-Long Daycare to allow young children and seniors to interact and learn from one another.  They are committed to providing “Love, compassion, and dignity” to their residents.

Natosha Pitchford, an Ombudsman, or advocate, for residents at long-term care facilities like Heritage Woods and Friendship Manor, provided a lot of information about the advocacy services that Alternatives provides.  Alternatives is overseen by the Illinois Department of Aging and works to help long-term care residents know their rights and to resolve any complaints or issues they may be having with the staff of the facility where they live.  She serves as a liaison between the residents and the facility, and although she ultimately serves the resident themselves, concerned family members of residents can reach out to her for assistance as well.

Natosha Pitchford
Natosha Pitchford of Alternatives

One major service she can provide is guidance on how to fund long-term care through private insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, and veteran’s programs.  These programs can assist with skilled nursing, assisted living, and even some in-home support services, but they typically only cover a portion of the costs.  There are “Senior Living Lines of Credit” available to help cover the gap – for more information on these programs contact Natosha at 1-800-798-0988.

The discussion at the end of the event was focused on what students and family members can do to advocate on behalf of elderly family members.  Some of the best advice given concerned how to know when it is time for a family member to move into an assisted living situation, and how best to approach that subject.  The recommendation was to begin the conversation long before it is actually necessary.  As baby boomers steadily reach retirement age, it is important that they begin to consider the way they would like to age and steps they can take to stay independent and to ease the transition.

Some ways that students can help with this is to encourage their parents or grandparents to take the bus sometimes instead of driving (and to ride along with them) so that they are familiar with the bus routes ahead of time and are able to utilize public transit when they are no longer able to drive.  Uber is another good option; students can order an Uber for trips out with their elder so that the elder has experience and knows that losing the ability to drive doesn’t mean they have to be homebound.

It is also important for students to begin the conversation and to ask questions about what their parents or grandparents would want if/when they need more assistance.  Would they prefer to stay in their own home with the help of a visiting nurse and a housekeeper (as well as family), or would they rather move into an “all-inclusive” assisted living community where they can get those services as well as having accesses to a community of other older adults?  The hope is that students can use this event as a way to begin this conversation.

If you have an older adult in your family that may need some of the services discussed in this article, please take a few minutes to review the following resources.


International Federation on Aging

Illinois Department on Aging

Western Illinois Area Agency on Aging

United Way of the Quad Cities

Project Now – Senior Services (Meals on Wheels, Utility Assistance, and much more)

If you have an elder family member and would like more information on how to determine when/if they may need to move to an assisted or supportive living situation, please check out the following resources:

Health In Aging

AARP’s Assess Your Loved One’s Well-Being

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