Assisted living requires smart shopping

I commend your Jan. 3 article "Coming to terms with long-term care." Many Americans do not plan ahead for long-term care and are surprised by the "sticker price" when a family crisis occurs.

The good news is that this issue has been gaining unprecedented national attention over the past year. President Clinton, and several members of Congress, have each proposed initiatives ranging from tax credits for at-home caregivers, to conversion of affordable, federally subsidised housing into assisted living units, to proposals promoting long-term care insurance.

In the meantime, affordable options do exist. The average rate for a basic, private room in an assisted living facility is less than $69 per day.

That typically includes rent, three meals per day, snacks, wellness and social activities, 24-hour staffing and security, maid service, and assistance with activities of daily living - not a bad bargain for the price of a hotel room. Many major long-term care insurance companies now cover assisted living.

The real issue is how to navigate the plethora of choices now available. If you have seen one assisted-living, continuing-care retirement community, independent-living community, or nursing home, you haven't seen them all.

Unlike 10 years ago, new options abound, and prices and packages vary.

It pays to be a smart shopper. No one likes surprises. Saving money means not only exploring methods of payment, but also assessing what your loved one's needs are now, how those needs may change over the future, and challenging each provider you visit to explain how they can accommodate lifestyle changes over time.

The ALFA provides a free checklist of questions to ask when visiting an elder care residence at

Karen A. Wayne President and CEO Assisted Living Federation of America Fairfax, Va.

Does father know best for Elian?

It is unfortunate that Elian Gonzalez's father lives in Cuba and that is where he must go. But it is, indeed, a good day in America when a father's rights are recognized.

Frank Hujber Mercerville, N.J.

Your Jan. 19 opinion piece "After Elian" did not take a stand one way or another on the fundamental issue in this case. There is no question of the horrific nature of Castro's rule over Cuba, the denial of basic liberties and freedoms we take for granted. This has been documented to distraction over the years and made an unpopular issue by a diametrically opposed, politically influenced group in Miami.

The real issue, whether a father's rights supercede those of well-intentioned relatives and their political affiliates, was not addressed.

Would the father have a different opinion on free ground? Probably. Is it within the jurisdiction of the US or Elian's Miami relatives to decide for him, in absentia, that his child should be raised by them?

Absolutely not. The best that can be offered is citizenship to the child, allowing him to bring himself and his father to the US at some future time when it is his decision and not the consensus of zealots and demagogues.

Richard Herbst Plantation, Fla.

Your Jan. 10 editorial cartoon was right on target. I doubt seriously that six-year-old Elian Gonzales is much different from my American grandchildren. To manipulate a child for selfish purposes is nothing short of criminal.

M. L. Whitmore Los Angeles

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