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The Dark Side of Senior Living: PBS Exposé on Assisted Living

PBS FrontlineThe PBS Frontline show, Life and Death in Assisted Living, highlights some major problems in the senior living industry: our commentary and tips for families

PBS’s Frontline recently aired a show exposing some major issues in the Assisted Living industry, specifically focusing on what they uncovered over 14 months researching lawsuits against Emeritus facilities. The team of reporters examined numerous lawsuits against the corporation, interviewed employees, residents and families, reviewed Ombudsman records and talked to many experts and regulators in the industry. The reports certainly expose a lot of scary information, especially for those of us who have loved ones living in assisted living or who may need those services at some point. You can check out the show and related segments and articles at PBS: Life and Death in Assisted Living.

Undoubtedly, this series will spark a lot of debate and discussion. Is this a matter of companies putting profit over care in senior housing? Is it only the big corporations to blame? Is more regulation the answer? Are there good senior living providers? Is the answer better pay, training and support for care staff?  How do we as a society deal with elders living longer needing higher levels of care? What can families do when they need help caring for a loved one? Is this an “assisted living problem” or a more pervasive problem at different levels of senior care? The series raises these and other daunting questions, with no easy answers.

At Aging Wisely we know, however, that the most important thing for families in all of this is how to get quality care for their loved one. Clearly, there are a loft of things that may need to be done in the industry at large, and the system for regulation and oversight may need an overhaul. We don’t want to appear in any way to negate the responsibility of providers to provide quality care and adequate staffing, or to further the guilt that families may feel in this whole process. However, these problems will not be resolved easily so we want to help families with some practical tips to access/ensure better care.

Here are some essential tips for finding quality care:

1.  Start with a clear assessment of what is needed and what type of care fits best (for the person’s needs, budget, desires, lifestyle, etc.). Engage an expert, and preferably an independent one. The place to start is not with a particular facility or care provider. They may be the nicest people on earth and may very well help you, but there is naturally a bias toward the option they offer. You need to look at the person’s needs and then determine, out of the array of senior care options, what choices are most appropriate.

Some of the biggest problems exposed in assisted living have revolved around inadequate staffing in relation to the care needed. Assisted Living was not originally envisioned as providing the level of care we’re sometimes seeing now. Some Assisted Living Facilities are accepting residents that they should not be and allowing residents to stay when they need more care. Whatever the motivations behind this, it is important that you get a clear picture of how the needs match with the level of care that can really be provided.

2.  Focus behind-the-scenes.  Don’t get caught up in the physical presentation of a care facility.  It can be easy to be wowed by a beautiful place.  It is especially challenging when your parent is moving from home and you see a place that offers beautiful or large spaces, something that can be very appealing.  The search for care should be considered more like searching for the best specialist for a rare disease/surgery, rather than looking for a new home or apartment.  You can review state inspection reports, get references and most importantly, talk to someone “in the know”.

3.  First impressions should be great, but try to get a handle on what will happen after your first impressions.  In other words, you will probably meet some wonderful marketing staff when you are looking at care options. But, sales and marketing staff will not be the primary people you will deal with after moving in to assisted living.  Make sure to meet other staff and ask questions about how different issues are handled and who to contact about various needs.

What can you do after moving in to Assisted Living to help ensure good care?

1.  Oversight is essential.  Family and friends should visit often and get to know staff.  Ask questions and keep abreast of any changes.  Particularly if you live at a distance, consider hiring a geriatric care manager to make regular oversight visits and provide advocacy for your loved one.  Even if you live nearby, it is helpful to consult with a professional who can help you navigate expectations and how to get things accomplished.

2.  Assessment should be an ongoing process.  If something changes with your loved one, it might be time to get a reevaluation to ensure the care is still appropriate.  If some time has passed since your loved one moved in, consider a review of the current care plan and needs. Even if the level of care is still appropriate, there are often coordination issues and care planning changes necessary.

3.  Monitor transitions carefully.  It is well-documented that elders bounce back to the hospital at significant rates, often because of gaps in care and communication.  Evaluate the best plan of action after a hospital stay or rehabilitation.  Is the assisted living facility still able to provide the level of care needed?  Would it be useful to have some extra help during the transition?

We will share more information in future articles about the process for making complaints with care at an assisted living or other senior living facility as well as the regulations and oversight of these facilities in Florida.

You may want to check out our Guide to Choosing the Best Senior Living Facility and we invite your calls at 727-447-5845 for help any time!

Aging Wisely geriatric care managers serve as patient advocates and resource experts for families with loved ones in Tampa Bay.  We help with geriatric assessments, facility choice and transition, ongoing oversight and more!

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Our goal is to enable every individual we work with to live the most fulfilling life possible, with utmost dignity, focusing on their physical, mental, spiritual, family and financial wellbeing.