Swapping Care from North to South: A Snowbird’s Guide

Nearly a century ago, the term “snowbird” described seasonal workers who moved south for the winter. Today, there are about two million snowbirds migrating every year for the same warmer winters in the South. These snowbirds, however, are typically retired from work completely.

Some places in the North, like New York, are infamous for formidable winters with chill, blizzards, snow and icy hazards. Cold environments like these threaten the health and safety of seniors who may already have health issues. Instead of facing risks like pneumonia, falls atop icy surfaces and other hazards of northern winter weather, some seniors choose to spend their winters where the cold is nowhere to be found. Just like seasonal workers, today’s snowbirds are senior citizens who migrate South for warmer winters and return North for the rest of the year.

Every year, the warmer areas of America are replenished with large numbers of senior citizens flocking towards more accommodating climates. Snowbirds tend to “land” in Arizona, Texas, Nevada, New Mexico and Florida in numbers that usually boost local economies and populations significantly. In 2005, a study in the Journal of Gerontology reported nearly 800,000 elderly temporary in-migrants in Florida alone. Snowbirds hail from many other places across the country, and even from Canada.

While snowbirds tend to have two nests, they are just as likely to call their vacation destination “home.” Seasoned snowbirds know how to cultivate relationships, find activities and navigate both places as if they have always lived there. It may become a pleasure to claim two places and two sets of friends as your own. But when living in two homes, one worrying dilemma snowbirds face is the shifting of their healthcare from North to South…and back again.

A Northerner traveling South for the winter, or even a snowbird already situated comfortably in their summer home, has to handle the task of organizing care in two places. Emergencies happen to seniors, no matter where they may be, and healthcare shouldn’t stop just because seniors change location. When continued care is essential to senior health and happiness, it must be provided wherever a senior may go. There are solutions to swapping care from North to South seamlessly, and with all the preparation needed in case of an emergency. How do savvy snowbirds do it? This will be your guide.

Leaving Home

As soon as that first winter chill sweeps over you, maybe in October or November, you may start daydreaming about the other home you have waiting for you in the southern sun. For new snowbirds, the first sight of winter may stir a different reaction. Leaving home may be hard to do, especially if you must leave your extended family behind. Aside from these personal issues, you also have to think about the preparations necessary for an easy transition to the South and back again. This includes organizing logistics like rental payments, communication, handling mail, packing, travel payments, vehicles and more. Inexperienced snowbirds can come under stress and anxiety when they are dealing with these arrangements. They’ll feel even more distress if they do not know what arrangements to make for transitioning healthcare.

Leaving home as a snowbird will mean leaving much of your life where it is, only to come back to it later, of course. You not only want your absence from home to have little negative impact on your living space and the people who were around you, but you also want to have access to the necessities of your life, like healthcare.

Before You Leave

Schedule a routine checkup with your family doctor before leaving home. Request enough refills for an extended period of time from the doctor prescribing your regular medication, and refill your prescriptions before you leave as well. Tell your pharmacist where you are going and request that they transfer future prescriptions to a pharmacy nearby. Clarify your medications with your doctor and communicate the date and length of your stay away. This should set you up with doctor’s orders and medication ready for some time through your snowbird vacation. But the greater importance of taking these precautions before you travel is in assessing your general health before leaving your regular health providers behind. If you are healthy, it is safer for you to travel. If you are not, your doctors and pharmacists should prepare you well enough to make the trip and sustain yourself afterward.

If you have a caregiver, you will probably need one in your second home as well. Do not risk going without long-term care just because you do not know if you will have a good, new caregiver, or because you do not want to replace a beloved caregiver from home. Take a nurse or doctor’s assessment of the level and quantity of care you will need, send it to several caregiver agencies in the area you’ll travel to and shop for the best fit. Thankfully, if you have an Amada Senior Care caregiver, there are more Amada locations across the country that will collaborate with each other to continue your care.

What to Bring

  • Health equipment like walkers, wheelchairs, canes, hearing aids, medicine organizers, nebulizers, blood pressure monitors and diabetic monitors.
  • Documents like a list of current medications and dosages, a list of allergies, a list of current physicians, advance directive/durable power of attorney paperwork, health insurance cards and documentation from recent clinic visits.
  • Documentation of long-term care provided by your previous senior care agency, including assessments, care plans and reports.
  • Adequate emergency equipment like first aid kits, epi-pens for allergies, emergency alert equipment and defibrillators.
  • Medication categorized accurately and organized in correct dosages, preferably with a pill organizer.

Covering Your Care

In some cases, snowbirds find that their health insurance does not transfer with them from state to state. Some HMO health plans confine coverage to a specific network of doctors and hospitals in a senior’s home state. To be covered in your second destination, be sure that your health insurance is flexible enough to accommodate your move.

For covering long-term care, some snowbirds may rely on personal savings or Medicaid. On the other hand, snowbirds with long-term care insurance have the luxury of nationwide coverage. The only obstacle for insurance coverage when swapping care from North to South is configuring communication between the insurance company and the long-term care provider. Insurance providers must receive updates about seniors’ long-term care to keep policies active. The best way to transition coverage of one senior care provider to another is to stay within the network of one company. When swapping between Amada Senior Care locations, for example, your long-term care insurance advocates will smooth the transition of coverage for you. All it takes is collaboration across states and within the Amada family to make sure that the care you receive at home and at your snowbird destination is seamless.

If you would like to know more about swapping care within the Amada Senior Care family network, feel free to speak to an advisor near you.


“Swapping Care from North to South: A Snowbird’s Guide,” by Michelle Mendoza, Amada Blog contributor.





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