Frontline Exposé Examines The Sorry State of Assisted Living

Posted on July 31, 2013

PBS’s Frontline series has released a shocking new exposé on the often sorry state of assisted living facilities across the country.  The series involves a number of articles available on the web under the banner “Life and Death in Assisted Living.”  In those stories, reporters uncover multiple instances of shortsighted, inattentive, and borderline abusive care at various assisted living centers.  The results are alarming, especially for people who may have elderly loved ones in such facilities or are thinking about moving them to such.

One revelation that might catch many people off-guard is the fact that assisted living facilities are regulated far differently than nursing homes.  And if you’re having trouble attempting to figure out what the difference even is between the two, you’re not alone.  Assisted living facilities exist in a kind of gray zone, with operators saying that they give an elderly individual more freedom and flexibility than the regimented structure of a nursing home.  What this actually means in concrete terms is harder to pinpoint.

Unlike nursing homes, assisted living facilities aren’t subject to federal regulations.  Data about nursing homes is available via the Nursing Home Compare website, a site which supplies data compiled by the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  Nursing Home Inspect, another website, allows interested parties to look up information about safety violations.  Plus, states often create stringent requirements that may go beyond what even the federal government has mandated.

The Frontline report points out that those in the assisted living industry are largely responsible for pushing back at any attempts at regulation.  They’ve apparently taken this strategy and applied it to the Frontline report itself.

One of the articles found on the Frontline website discloses the ways that Emeritus Senior Living is attempting to do damage control on their story.  The company has reached out to other assisted living companies via email in a bid to get everyone on the same page as to how to handle the potential negative public response to the story.  Emeritus employees are themselves being asked to take to social media outlets and aggregate review sites like Yelp to post positive comments in response to the negative press engendered by the article.

But your question might be what you can do if you’re currently in the market for an assisted living facility for your loved one.  Thankfully, there’s a section dedicated to questions one should be asking and the appropriate way to answer.  One should first figure out what their actual needs are to determine if a nursing home or assisted living facility would be preferable.  Then the research begins.  Drop by the facility with a checklist available from a number of websites.  Figure out what fees will need to be paid and if the contract is on the level.  Finally, the report recommends consulting with a local  longterm care ombudsman, who should be able to relate any citations or violations against the facility not necessarily included on various online databases.

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