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Senior Citizen's Guide to Chicago

Finding your way through the Alphabet Soup
CCAC, SNF, CARF, CCRC -- what do they mean?

As you and your family explore your options for the future, several abbreviations might crop up: CCRC and CCAC/CARF, or IL and SNF. What do these terms mean, and how might they be important to you?

Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC)

CCRC stands for Continuing Care Retirement Community, a particular kind of option for residential living. Continuing care refers to a community where all levels of services and care are available to residents, usually all on the same campus.

CCRCs usually provide a written agreement or long-term contract between the resident (frequently lasting the term of the resident's lifetime) and the community, which offers a continuum of housing, services and health care.

In CCRC communities, potential residents choose an apartment or cottage as well as a level of services they need: independent living, assisted living, nursing care or specialized memory care. In many organizations, the different levels of care can be accessed directly by those living outside the retirement community.

In a CCRC, individuals who can live safely without assistance or supervision are sometimes called "independent residents" and may live in IL or Independent Living cottages or apartments. The services provided are primarily for convenience and lifestyle benefits. Many communities offer health screenings, wellness services, fitness centers, libraries, classes, and entertainment for the residents.

AL or Assisted Living is designed for individuals who need regular support, but do not need a nurse on a daily basis. Residents in these apartments may need reminders to take medication, or assistance with activities such as meals, laundry, bathing and getting dressed.

Some communities refer to residential healthcare services as SNF, which stands for Skilled Nursing Facility. Healthcare or nursing care provides the necessary services for those who need a nurse or certified nursing assistant on a daily basis. Individuals might have chronic conditions that require a skilled caregiver in a nursing care center. Some communities also offer specialized Alzheimer's or memory care facilities as part of their healthcare program.

CCAC and CARF for Accreditation

The Continuing Care Accreditation Commission (CCAC), acquired by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) in 2003, is the nation's only accrediting body for continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) and other types of continuums of care.

Before CCAC was founded, consumers, financial rating agencies, and others had no clear way of determining whether a retirement community was financially stable, providing quality care, or worthy of their investment. In 1985, a group of visionaries created CCAC to help ensure that the nation's retirement communities fulfill their promises of quality, lifetime care to older persons.

In January 2003, CCAC merged with the commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), a non-profit accreditation system founded in 1966 that touches more that 5.1 million individuals serviced in a wide range of human service organizations. Only 15% of the 2500 continuing care retirement communities nationwide are CARF-CCAC accredited.

Today, CARF accredits continuing care retirement communities and aging services networks that are part of home, community, or hospital-based systems; sites under a corporate organization; and other types of providers.
According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, "The Continuing Care Accreditation Commission (CCAC) accredits continuing care retirement communities. Their standards are fairly strict, so this is often a good test of the community's overall caliber."

As the nation's only accrediting body for non-profit and for-profit continuing care retirement communities, CARF helps promote and maintain quality and disclosure in the retirement industry. Essentially, an accredited organization lives up to its own mission, strives for excellence in its services, ensures that its programs and practices are innovative, and follows an appropriate and achievable plan for the future.

An organization seeking accreditation voluntarily puts itself through a rigorous peer review process. Members demonstrate to a team of surveyors during on-site surveys that they are committed to conforming to the accreditation conditions and 900 separate standards of CARF. Furthermore, an organization that earns CARF accreditation is commended in its quest for quality programs and services

Accreditation Is the Seal of Approval

Accreditation means that a consumer can be confident that the organization has made a commitment to continually enhance the quality of its services and programs, and to focus on the satisfaction of the persons served. These select organizations must be focused on assisting each resident in achieving his or her chosen goals and outcomes.
 "More than a seal of approval, receiving accreditation means that an organization's programs and services have met resident-focused, state-of-the-art national standards of performance," said Peter Mulvey, President and CEO of Presbyterian Homes of Evanston, IL. "Older adults exploring retirement options should use this standard as a way to identify organizations that are successful in providing exceptional senior services."
An accredited community has met or exceeded all of the Commission's standards of excellence in the areas of governance and administration; financial resources; and resident life, health and wellness. In order to become accredited, an organization must involve its residents, Board of Directors, and staff in the process. 

 "The accreditation process is pretty tough, taking up to a year to complete….

Consumers can be sure an accredited community has undergone a rigorous
internal and external review,"  said the story in the Chicago Tribune.

For more information about the accreditation process, please visit the CARF web site at

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