Six security tips to follow before you move your loved one into a senior-living community

When making plans for Ventana by Buckner, a luxury retirement community slated to open this fall in North Dallas, security was top of mind for executive director Rick Pruett.

But after authorities indicted Billy Chemirmir on 11 capital murder charges in Dallas and Collin counties, Pruett said, his team went back to the drawing board to make sure the facility’s security was strong enough.

“The best security plan I’ve learned about has to be one that’s always evolving,” he said. “I’ve seen things come to a place in the last few years that (security) has been more prevalent. … That is such a culture shift.”

According to police and court records, Chemirmir posed as a maintenance or health care worker to gain access to Dallas, Frisco and Plano retirement facilities to kill women between 2016 and 2018. He also targeted women at their private homes in Dallas and Collin counties, according to the indictments.

Police say he smothered his victims with pillows, then took their jewelry and other items to pawn or trash.

Chemirmir has denied jailhouse interview requests but has said he is innocent. He is in the Dallas County jail with bail set at $11.6 million.

His case raises concern for older people moving to similar communities and family members who are helping with that transition. Here’s some advice from law enforcement and senior living experts about how to choose a secure community for long-term care.

SECURITY VARIES BY FACILITY AND LEVEL OF CARE

Suzanna Sulfstede is director of the long-term care ombudsman program at the Senior Source and regularly visits retirement and nursing home communities in Dallas County to serve as an advocate for residents.

She said security varies by facility, depending on a number of factors. Some communities may have a check-in process for guests that involves getting a visitors’ badge, while others may just have guests sign in on a clipboard.

Security may also vary by level of care. For example, independent living complexes may have individual locks on residents’ units —although nurses or other staff may have keys for emergencies. Nursing home doors, however, are required to be lock-free to allow for more regular medical care.

“Ultimately, the facility is responsible for the safety of its residents,” Sulfstede said.

USE A SECURITY CAMERA

Residents are allowed to have a camera in their personal space, Sulfstede said, and they have the right to record interactions with staff and other caregivers.

“Cameras in facilities can deter abuse,” she said.

However, Sulfstede said it’s important to be sure that the resident knows when and how cameras are used in order to give them privacy if needed. And in some nursing home settings, she said, it’s important to talk to potential roommates about camera usage.

Also, she suggested checking whether security cameras are installed in public spaces like hallways and foyers, and how they are monitored.

SEE WHAT HOURS ARE SECURE

Mark Dawson of the Plano Police Department’s crime prevention unit suggested visiting a facility at night to assess lighting, and Sulfstede said it’s important to ask what security measures are in place at all hours.

After certain hours, some facilities may lock up and require a key pad code or phone call for entry.

Sulfstede noted that some facilities have shorter staffing at night and at times may not have someone at the front desk to check in visitors. It’s important, therefore, for families to know what kind of security is offered at different times of day and night.

DO YOUR RESEARCH

Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities must register with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and are subject to regular inspections.

Dawson also suggested using public data to see what kind of crimes and calls for service have been reported in the neighborhood. On communitycrimemap.com, for example, you can pull up recent crime reports for a neighborhood.

ASK QUESTIONS

When touring a facility, it’s important for both the person moving in and his or her family to ask lots of questions about security.

Experts also suggest talking to current residents or their families to get another perspective of what a community is like.

“We find our need for security is part of our user experience,” Pruett said.

Pruett suggested asking questions about what emergency plans are in place. Any employee should know the basics of a facility’s preparedness plan, he said.

Pruett said he is training his employees at Ventana by Buckner to be alert and to acknowledge visitors to help prevent security issues. To do that, he said, he encourages employees to make eye contact with and talk to visitors to quickly determine whether they should be on the premises.

IF SOMEONE COMES KNOCKING, VERIFY

In one attempted slaying at a Frisco retirement living complex in which Chemirmir is suspected, police said he claimed to be a maintenance man for the facility. When a 91-year-old resident said she didn’t need any work done, police said, Chemirmir shoved her from her walker to the floor and tried to suffocate her.

Dawson said it’s important to verify the identity of anyone who comes to the door, and to not automatically open the door if there’s an unexpected knock.

“You’ve got to ask yourself, ‘Did I call for a pizza?’ or ‘Did I call the police?’ ” Dawson said. “We try to tell people if your gut tells you something might be wrong, it probably is.”

If someone claims to work for a facility, for example, call the front desk to double-check that the visitor is supposed to be there.

“You have to have a mindset like you can’t trust people like you used to,” Dawson said.

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