Response to Frontline's "Life and Death in Assisted Living"

July 31, 2013


July 31, 2013. Frontline produced an extremely unbalanced "documentary" attacking one company's handling of Alzheimer's residents.

Response to Frontline's "Life and Death in Assisted Living"

After watching the Frontline “documentary” last night called Life and Death in Assisted Living, it really wasn’t about assisted living. Rather, it was about Alzheimer’s care at Emeritus Corporation, specifically terrible episodes in a few of their communities. Too often we hear of companies, or buyers of underperforming communities, saying they are going to add an Alzheimer’s wing to boost occupancy and cash flow. That’s great, if there is demand for it in the local market. But to think you can just make a few design changes, add some additional staff (we hope) and presto, you have an Alzheimer’s wing where you can charge an extra $1,500 per month is, well, just wrong.

There is a reason why Silverado Senior Living charges $6,000 to $12,000 per month in its Alzheimer’s communities. They claim they can’t do it for any cheaper, that the residents need not only much higher levels of staffing, but better trained staff, and that staff is going to be more expensive. The problem is that not many people in this country can afford that. In the Frontline story last night, an Emeritus employee told the interviewer that staff go through eight hours of training. Really, one day of training for Alzheimer’s and memory care? You go through more training to be a bartender. If anything, we hope Emeritus will beef up its training as well as its staffing in its Alzheimer’s wings, but that goes for many assisted living companies.

One premise of the story that I have to disagree with is the statement that companies and capital were attracted to the assisted living business because of fewer regulations. They were attracted because it offered a nicer environment than nursing homes for people who didn’t need skilled nursing but had few alternatives, and they liked the fact that the government would not be the source of their revenues. There was an unmet demand for the service, not because of the fewer regulations. In addition, the industry “expert” who made a comment about people thinking assisted living residents would be going out golfing on weekends appeared a bit clueless on that front. Never since the name assisted living appeared has that ever been on the radar. Someone who needs assistance with a minimum of 2-3 ADLs, but usually many more, is not playing golf on weekends. Give me a break.

Finally, why was there not another voice heard? The vast majority of assisted living residents and their families are happy with the service, care and environment. But you would never know that from watching the show. As I said, it was an attack on Alzheimer’s care at a few communities owned by one company. But the industry, as it takes care of an increasingly frail population who usually does not want to move out to a more institutional setting, has got to walk the walk, and if they have to charge more for the services needed, so be it. That may hurt occupancy in the short term, but they will be the community of choice in the long term, and that should be the goal of every provider.

And if anyone in Washington is listening, federal regulations is not the answer, unless you want an embittered nursing home “lite” industry, with increased government payments, with bigger deficits…you get the picture.



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