How do you find a good motel? You check reviews on TripAdvisor. How would you check out whether a rental cabin is really a dream or just a dump? You’d look it up on VRBO, of course, and learn the facts from people who stayed there.

What if you’re thinking of a long-term care residence for yourself or a family member? You might read some reviews online – although how many people take the trouble to write reviews if a place is just OK, but not wonderful? Many places don’t get lots of reviews, and how many residents would know how or where to post a review anyway?

In Wyoming, high-quality information of this kind actually is available. Searchable information about complaints and inspection reports for Wyoming facilities for the aging are available online here.

The state also requires all long-term care facilities to carry out annual satisfaction surveys of residents and their families, and to keep this data on file for review. The Wyoming Department of Health doesn’t tell facilities which questions to ask on these satisfaction surveys, doesn’t post the results online, and doesn’t require these residences to share them with the public, prospective residents, or their relatives.

But the survey results do exist and are worth requesting–if only for the opportunity to judge how a long-term care facility responds when it receives the request.

Administrator Margaret Chantry says anyone is welcome to look at the results of the 34-question survey distributed every year to residents of Warm Valley Lodge, the assisted living facility in Dubois, and their relatives. The answers exist even for residents who find it too daunting to complete the survey themselves.

Most often when high school volunteer Mia Chandler stops by, she spends her time playing cribbage with one resident. (“He always wins,” she said.) But one day last fall, the staff asked her to help with the survey, rephrasing questions and recording the responses for four others who were unable to complete the task.

Sometimes she had to speak more loudly than usual, Mia said, which was a challenge because she’s a “bit of an introvert” and “not a loud person.” But recording the responses was fun.

On the scale of 1 to 4, she said, “most people were all in the 4s. There was nothing below a 3. They really love Warm Valley Lodge. Nobody wanted to change anything.”

That’s not entirely true: There was the snack problem. One question, about the availability of snacks, scored a very low mean of 2.2. Chantry explained the issue with a chuckle: Snacks began to disappear when they were left out on the food-service counter, and housekeeping staff later discovered that a few residents had been hoarding them.

Now the nurses distribute them every afternoon when they refill the water jugs. (In any case, residents are able to buy their own snacks on regular trips to the center of town in the Lodge’s van.)

The state requires long-term care facilities to maintain several other kinds of quality-assurance procedures, in addition to the surveys. Beyond fire drills and specified kinds of staff meetings, it mandates calendars of activities and regular resident council meetings where people can raise concerns.

Facilities are required to keep notes from regular residents’ meetings, which also might be useful reading for someone considering a residence. Besides reminders to be kind to each other and the staff, and compliments about the menu, people at Warm Valley Lodge have had issues to raise. In January 2022, they had cabin fever and wanted to visit a virtual museum or play shuffleboard. Two months later, someone complained that the dining room was noisy. Last September, someone said that the shrubbery beds could be landscaped better.

Visitors are welcome to attend resident council meetings in person, said Administrator Chantry, as long as they just listen and don’t speak. “It really is their meeting,” she explained.