Boomers investigating senior care facilities for their parents now can take advantage of an online tool that presents a spectrum of choices nationwide.

A new service offered by SNAPforSeniors provides a Web search tool that allows a searcher to enter criteria ranging from the type of facility and space availability to specifics such as whether pets are allowed, and find an array of listings in a geographic area.

For boomers who need to find new living arrangements for parents, the Web service provides access to quick, comparable, detailed data, says Eve Stern, president of SNAPforSeniors.

The effort, Stern says, started 3 years ago and has resulted in the site, , and company based in Seattle. Information is culled from available federal and state licensing data and updated as frequently as these sources are updated, she says.

All facilities are listed but they also have the option of paying for upgrades such as a link stating that inquiries are accepted. The upgrade costs $200 a month for facilities with over 20 beds and $100 for facilities with fewer than 20 beds.

The site also sorts out the many different kinds of licensed facilities, Stern continues. For instance, she adds, there are currently 243 types of licenses for assisted living and residential homes. A glossary of terms with specific definitions of state licenses is being developed and is nearly ready to go live, Stern adds. In the last year alone, she says, 60 new types of licenses nationwide have been added.

To make matters more confusing, she says, with the acquisition of facilities in a fast changing field, names are also changing. SNAPforSeniors addresses that problem by assigning its own facility numbers to institutions.

At this point, Stern notes, the industry is not made up of big chains; rather, of the 60,000 licensed providers, nearly 70% are 10 beds or less. Consequently, the quality of a facility can be at issue, she says, and to address that concern, there is a link to www.Medicare.gov that provides comparison information on nursing facilities. In addition, a blog for each facility is planned for the SNAPforSeniors site which will allow participants to discuss facilities. The site also provides an online tour of facility rooms.

In addition to the SNAPforSeniors site, the company also private labels sites for organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association’s senior housing finder and the just announced locator for the Case Management Society of America, Little Rock, Ark. Currently, there are over 40 sites powered by SNAPforSeniors, but Stern says that with the addition of government and non-profit organizations, the number should be over 100 shortly.

Case managers need tools to be able to help their clients and this provides another tool for the CMSA to be a one-stop shop for its membership, according to Cheri Lattimer, CSMA executive director. While a case manager probably has a good idea of facilities locally, if a facility is needed in another geographic area, the site can save hours of time, she explains.

Suzanne Modigliani, a geriatric care manager based in Boston, says that while such a service may be helpful for those who are not working with a professional, a geriatric care manager knows both what level of care a patient needs and has expertise about what facilities are available locally. In most situations, the senior lives locally and a child or concerned relative contacts the geriatric care manager for assistance with local assessment and placement, she explains.

Geriatric care managers start by providing an assessment of the level of care that is needed and then determine whether that care can be provided in the home or in an assisted living facility, she adds. More information on geriatric care managers is available at .

If assisted living or a nursing facility is needed, a geriatric care manager can help with contracts, sorting out what are basic fees and what services are a la carte, Modigliani continues.

“In my experience most planners don’t go that far [recommending senior housing,]” says Sharon Luker, a certified financial planner and holder of a certified long term care and certified senior advisor designations with LTC Planning Consultants, Plano, Texas.

While it is likely that financial planners are going to receive more questions about senior housing and it is possible that having information readily available could be helpful, Luker says it is more likely that they will work with a gerontologist to assess what kind of care a senior citizen needs.

Planners are unlikely to sit down and determine which facility is a good one because they do not know a lot about the topic and do not have the time necessary to devote to the issue, she adds.

And, if the senior has a long term care insurance policy, carriers often have care coordinators that provide assistance both in finding a facility that offers the proper level of care and in negotiating a price for that care, Luker continues.

A lot of assessment is needed before consideration is given to placing a senior in a facility, she adds.

For planners, it is a big learning curve and “to really do the job right, you have to go and see the facilities and not just look at statistics,” she says. “A gerontologist worth anything in a specific city will know those facilities.”

Such a Web service would be more useful if the senior had to be placed out of state, but in that case, as a financial planner, “I would find a gerontologist in that city,” says Luker.

Eve Kaplan, a certified financial planner who is founder and principal of Kaplan Financial Advisors, LLC, Berkeley Heights, N.J., says such sites can be valuable if they offer unbiased information. It can be hard to make comparisons because information available is often a comparison of “apples and oranges.”

While Kaplan says she sees the value in such sites, she also notes that a certified financial planner has a fiduciary responsibility to a client and is required to seek out professionals who can make specialized decisions such as choosing a nursing facility if the planner does not have that specific expertise.

Although sites can help narrow the choice of facilities for a client, Kaplan says it is the planner’s responsibility to examine how stable the facility is financially by looking at the institution’s financials, information that may not be available on a website. “You don’t want to put mom in a facility and have it go belly up 5 years later,” she notes.