A San Diego California Newspaper does a hatchet job on Assisted Living but maybe some good came out of it.

In early September, 2013 the San Diego Union Tribune published its own expose on the assisted living industry. This series was specifically focused on California assisted living generally and more specifically on assisted living in San Diego county. It, much like the FRONTLINE story, was one sided.  The series was title:  Deadly Neglect: A U-T special report.

So Unfair and Unbalanced

  • The Union Tribune had to go back to at least 2007 to find enough material to trash the industry.  It is hard to imagine that given that much time there is any segment of business, government or anything else where you can’t find something to create an inflammatory story.
  • There were many gross errors including this particular one that really stood out: “Their standards don’t require any kind of health care knowledge.” by Eric Carlson, directing attorney at the National Senior Citizens Law Center.  No questioning, no challenging the assertion.
  • What was particularly frustrating is that they lumped small six bed care homes in the same basket with large professionally run assisted living communities.  One of the stories was about licensing inspectors taking bribes to overlook problems.  This was strictly a board & care problem.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some really good small senior homes and they fill an important need, particularly  for seniors with limited financial means.

  • As the newspaper developed this story, California Association of Assisted Living (CALA) reached out to the paper to provide some balance.  That information never made it into the series.

The Silver Lining

This story has more of a silver lining than that FRONTLINE report for a number of reasons:

  • My favorite is that on September 27, they published a story titled “Assisted living: compassionate, competent care” by Sally Michael the president of CALA.  In her article she was able to present an accurate portrayal of how assisted living really looks in California and for the most part across the country.  She was able to paint a picture of how assisted living provides a living experience that enriches the lives of seniors and extends their life expectancy.

It would have been fairer and more balanced if her article had been included as part of the series itself but this is still much better than what FRONTLINE did.

  •  One of Sally’s points was that the members of CALA know there are so bad operators caring for seniors.  They want something done about it.  They want it stopped.  They want the problem fixed so badly that they are proposing a 20% hike in licensing fees to increase inspections and put the bad operators out of business.
  • All of this is a Good News/Bad News thing.  On hand it is a great opportunity for good operators to work hand-in-hand with legislative bodies and industry gadflies to crack down on bad operators.  The bad news is (though some may think this is good news) is that because assisted living seems to be one of the current media whipping boys designed to drive ratings and readers, we and the public can become immune to the problems and these stories will have decreasing impact.

I predict over the next number of months we will see stories like this continue to pop up, but the interest will continue to decline and we will be able to get back to the business of caring for the seniors.