Couple starts free service tofill senior referral niche

REAL CONCERN—Ken and Marianne Knight run Ventura County Senior Living, a free referral service that helps family members and caregivers find the right senior living facility for their loved ones.

REAL CONCERN—Ken and Marianne Knight run Ventura County Senior Living, a free referral service that helps family members and caregivers find the right senior living facility for their loved ones.

Last week a Simi Valley woman placed her husband of 36 years in a small assisted-living facility in Thousand Oaks. The decision was painful, but necessary.

The 71-year-old woman, who wants to remain anonymous because she now lives alone, said her husband’s dementia had progressed to the point where she felt incapable of caring for her him in their home.

“It was a very difficult decision to make because you’re wrenching somebody out of their known environment, and even if mentally they’re not totally aware of what’s going on there’s an emotional attachment to where (they’ve lived),” she said. “Dementia is a very cruel disease.”

The move was years in the making but locating the right place for the most important person in her life was not.

Instead of culling through the Yellow Pages or the Internet, the woman contacted Ventura County Senior Living, a free service that offers referrals on home care for seniors and assisted-living facilities in Ventura County and Calabasas.

She’d learned about the service several years earlier as an employee of Conejo/Las Virgenes Futures Foundation, a Calabasasbased nonprofit that seeks to identify needs of the community and fill them. Marianne Knight, a member of the foundation’s planning committee, owns the referral service.

“I knew that Marianne had a tremendous library of information about senior care facilities in the area,” said the woman, who was seeking an affordable assistedliving facility that housed no more than six residents. She obtained about eight referrals from Knight’s company.

The Simi Valley woman, who now works for another local nonprofit, acted on Knight’s advice to drop by the facilities unannounced and see what life is like for the residents when they’re not expecting company. The woman visited all of the facilities on her list before deciding on a home in Thousand Oaks, which was located not far from her work.

When she visited her 86-yearold husband on Monday, five days after placing him in the facility, she said she was impressed with the caregivers’ treatment of her husband and other residents. Caregivers treated the residents warmly and engaged them in conversations and activities, she said.

“So far it’s been a very positive outcome, but it’s still an adjustment on both of our parts,” the woman said. “And I can sleep at night because I think I’ve made the right decision and that he’s in a good place.”

Personal conviction

Marianne Knight, 39, and her husband, Ken, 42, founded Ventura County Senior Living 10 years ago after recognizing a need for a referral service. Marianne had worked in the senior care industry for several years and said many families are clueless when it comes to dealing with a senior who needs some type of assistedliving service.

“When families contact our service, they are usually exasperated and emotional,” Marianne said.” We remove the frustration and exhaustion part of it . . . that is the real value of the service. . . because (families) still go on to make the decision themselves but they are making a better decision when they call us first and have the right tools—that is key. Otherwise they’re just flying blind.”

Betty Berry, an advocate with the nonprofit Senior Concerns in T.O., said families should know about Ventura County Senior Living whether they need the service now or not.

“(Families) don’t know where to start . . . they don’t know where to look,” Berry said. “The Knights have gone through—I think they’ve visited every facility that there is . . . and they kind of know what’s available in each place. They just don’t give out a name.”

Senior Concerns also offers free referrals to agencies that assist seniors but that is one of many services the nonprofit provides, Berry said, while the Knights are focusing strictly on referrals to home-care agencies and residential care facilities.

Berry, who writes a weekly newspaper column on seniorrelated issues, said families should be prepared for events that may arise in a senior’s life, especially something that could occur unexpectedly.

“There is nothing worse than all of a sudden—especially on the Friday of a three-day weekend— needing something and having nowhere to go,” she said. “What we find here (at Senior Concerns) is that people don’t care about something until they need it, and they really, really should know about all that’s available through different programs and what programs are available.”

A home care agency

Ventura County has dozens of home-care agencies, private businesses that employee caregivers or hire independent contractors to help seniors with daily living, such as dressing, bathing and preparing meals. The state does not require them to be licensed.

The Knights ask callers a series of questions to determine their needs. Home care agencies and living facilities that register with Ventura County Senior Living are charged a fee. The Knights say they’ve visited the more than 100 home-care agencies and assisted living facilities in their referral database.

To register with Ventura County Senior Living, an agency or facility must be responsible for taxes, payroll and administrative obligations; must carry workers’ compensation and professional liability insurance; and must provide theft protection through a bond or insurance. The company must also employ the field staff, or, if it has a combination of employees and independent contractors, it must inform families of both options.

Knight said families are better off with home-care agencies that have employees rather than contractors, because the company, rather than the family, will bear the tax liability and insurance coverage for any worker injuries. A reputable home-care agency will disclose the status of the caregiver they send out and reveal the risks the family will incur if the person is an independent contractor, she said.

Families often discuss living assistance with a senior at a time of crisis, she said.

“They are in a panic situation; they chose the first company; they chose the cheapest and then they’ve put themselves in a very precarious situation that they’re not even aware of,” Knight said.

Home-healthcare facilities

Home-healthcare agencies are licensed by the state. They provide skilled medical professionals to deliver therapy and other medically prescribed services to a person in their home temporarily.

The department issuing the license to the home-healthcare agency depends on the level of care provided, said Ralph Montano, spokesperson for the California Department of Public Health, one of several state agencies that license home-healthcare facilities.

Montano said consumers should question an agency that claims to carry a state license. Ask what they are licensed to do and which department issued the license, he said, then call that department to confirm it. The Department of Social Services and Department of Aging also issue licenses to agencies.

“People use a lot of different terms for a lot of different kinds of facilities—businesses call themselves something else when they’re not,” Montano said. “They can call themselves something but what they’re licensed (for), as (stipulated) on their license, is really what they are, as far as we’re concerned.”

For more information about licensing for home-healthcare agencies, visit the California Department of Public Health website at

Knight said most who call for referrals request information on state-licensed assisted living facilities, including the large assisted-living communities and smaller board-and-care facilities.

A board-and-care facility is usually a residential home converted into an assisted-living facility for no more than six individuals. Ventura County is home to more than 200 licensed assistedliving facilities, Knight said.

The 71-year-old Simi Valley woman didn’t want her husband in a large facility. She wanted a board-and-care home with a small group of residents. She learned there are nearly 70 such facilities in Simi Valley alone.

“If I didn’t have (Knight’s) service to help me narrow down the choices, it would have been a very difficult task, because you’re involved in a very emotional stage of your life when you’re doing something like this,” she said.


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