Thoughts on the Frontline Documentary on Assisted Living

Daughter holding her mother hand in hospital

For those of you who missed it, Frontline did a documentary on assisted living communities.  It hit the industry pretty hard, but not hard enough to cause the offending company’s stock to drop.  I’m ashamed and embarrassed that fellow humans could be treated so poorly.

I’ve been trying to collect my thoughts for the last few weeks and offer my readers some bits of advice, but I keep coming up short.  However, I don’t think anyone who writes about the senior housing industry can ignore it.  So, this is my best advice on how to handle assisted living, memory care, and nursing home decision-making:

Don’t leave your loved ones anywhere that you feel is unsafe.  Period.  There is a reason that we have intuition, and we should all exercise it a bit more.  If a place makes your skin crawl, then don’t let your loved one stay there.  If you smell strong odors, don’t let your loved one stay there.  If you don’t feel comfortable around the staff, don’t stay there.  You’re not being rude; you’re simply protecting your loved one.

Check state and national sites for information related to safety and care violations.  Nursing Home Compare is the big one for skilled nursing ratings.  Since assisted living and memory care don’t accept Medicare or Medicaid, you’ll need to find your state’s inspection and complaint site for those facilities.  There is usually information on safety violations and complaints.  You can also call the state ombudsman for aging to get additional information.

Don’t just choose the most expensive facility.  I can’t stress this enough.  I’ve heard of some places that were $6,500 a month and never brushed the residents’ teeth.  I’ve heard of others that were $1,500 where they treated residents like family.  Make your decision based on what you observe and what your investigations uncover.

Visit your loved one often, even if you trust the facility staff.  Just being on the site is your biggest defense against abuse.  You’ll be surprised the things you see if you just hang around for a few hours.  Plus, the more you’re there, the deeper relationships you’ll form with caregivers.

Check your loved one for sores, wounds, and other signs of abuse or neglect.  In the video, the biggest regret that everyone had was not checking under grandma’s nightgown for evidence of trauma.  Even if you think that things are fine, you don’t want to take any chances.  If you do discover abuse, document everything and contact authorities immediately.

Unfortunately, abuse and neglect are all too common in senior housing. I shouldn’t have to tell you to check your loved ones for sores and abuse.  I shouldn’t have to give you the “insider scoop” on finding dirt on these communities.

But, I guess this is reality in the industry.

If we lived in an ideal world, we wouldn’t get sick near the end of our life.  Even if we did, we would live quietly at home, where we were happy and content.  We’d have loving family members who had the time and energy to care for us.  Since that doesn’t exist in the real world, then we have to deal with the reality.

I don’t think that everyone should take their parents or grandparents into their own home for care (if anything, the Frontline documentary highlights the difficulties of dealing with dementia patients, even in professional settings).  Assisted living facilities do fill a valuable role in society.  However, consumers have to be careful about how they choose a community.  They also have to have a watchful eye.  It’s unfortunate, but it’s reality.