A special report titled “Life and Death in Assisted Living” that aired last week on the PBS show “Frontline” painted a poor picture of assisted-living services offered by Emeritus, one of the largest providers of assisted-living and retirement communities in North America.
To summarize the almost hour-long report, reporters exposed some of the extremely unfortunate and horrific details regarding the care - or lack thereof - provided to several of the residents residing at one of the many assisted-living communities that Emeritus owns and operates. As someone who works in this industry (unfortunately, caring for people has become an industry), I honestly can say that although I was deeply saddened by these tragedies, with many ending in death, I was not as nearly surprised.
The focus of this exposé targeted three key areas. First was the relationship between Emeritus, a for-profit organization, and its priority on corporate profits over resident care. It takes a specific number of good people to make a senior community safe and operationally fit. From the way events were reported, it would appear the communities in question were understaffed and/or had less-than-adequately trained staff with questionable work ethics.
The second concern dealt with the appropriateness of residents within the community. It is true that, in general, today’s assisted-living communities look like yesterday’s nursing homes. People are waiting longer to make the decision to move to a supportive environment and, hence, when they arrive (if the community accepts them - and most do), they have more complicated health issues that the community must address, including various forms of dementia and mobility challenges. An effort to keep residents who already are living within the community longer than appropriate also was a noted concern. Lately, there has been a push to “keep people in place,” rather than mandate that they move out when they become less able. This can be both good and bad. But the reality of such situations, if additional support and oversight is not provided when needed, is increased risk for serious injuries due to falls, mishaps and accidents.
The final concern revolved around proper medication administration and management. I think I have discussed this at length in previous articles, but it is worth repeating that when medications are not handled appropriately, problems will occur. Again, properly trained staff with great integrity is the key to minimizing medication errors and concerns.
It should be noted that “Frontline” highlighted Emeritus Assisted Living Communities because it is the largest. Not all communities are the same. “Frontline” also made reference to the fact that assisted living is not regulated by the federal government. This is true, but each state has laws and regulations governing assisted living, and in my opinion the state of Georgia does a good job overseeing this area. It is a monumental task, to say the least.
I have worked for both large and small corporations, nonprofit and for-profit. The key to any successful assisted-living community is the leadership that is provided at the local community level. When decisions are made to always do the right thing first - making commitments to people over profits - high occupancy and company earnings always will follow.
You can replay the PBS broadcast at www.pbs.org.
DeLong is the executive director of The Suites at Station Exchange. Email him at Suites.StationExchange@gmail.com.