These days you don’t have to look too far to see some tawdry tale of negligence in assisted living.

 These days you don’t have to look too far to see some tawdry tale of negligence in assisted living. Last years Frontline expose was a perfect example. And while I wholeheartedly believe those owners and operators who aren’t doing their jobs should be penalized, the mainstream media gets it wrong so much much of the time. One of the ways they get it wrong is by neglecting to share the stories of death and dying that are not riddled with missteps and negligence. We need to take a look at this sacred occurrence from a different vantage point.

A Different View

About a month ago we had a gentleman pass away in our community. He had been in a skilled nursing and his family called us and said “please let us bring him back to your community on hospice so that he can live out his final days in his home.”

That meant coordinating things with hospice late on a Friday evening; and visiting the skilled nursing facility to see him and his family inorder to ensure all was in order. In general, we sped up our preparations to accommodate him sooner than we’d planned. After he passed away we made transportation available to our residents and some staff who wanted to attend his funeral mass, and we held a celebration of life with the Chaplain from hospice who assisted residents, friends, family members and staff in processing their grief.

The other day I received an email from his son, thanking us for caring for his dad in his last 5 months of life. He expressed that his father truly regarded our community as his home and the staff and residents as his family. It was one of the kindest, most humbling family letters I’ve yet to receive.

And just days ago another resident passed away and I was able to go over and hug both his daughters while they cried and grieved their beloved father’s passing. My staff has taken meals over to families as they sit at a bedside vigil, or simply to check in, hold their hand and let them know they are not alone. We visit them in the hospital and call their loved ones to update them on how their parent is adjusting to community life. When our residents move to our community we embrace them as an extension of our families, not merely people we work around.

Words to Contemplate

At a recent assisted living class, the speaker said something that struck me to the core. I never really thought about it from this perspective, but it is, in many cases, very true. She said, “Have you ever thought about what a privilege it is that your residents have chosen to die in your community?” It took my breath way when I heard it, because although I tell families it is always our goal to keep people through the end of life, it never quite impacted me as much as it had that day. 

We get to know residents at the end of their lives; after children, careers, and often the passing of a spouse. The person we come to know and love is often just a small snapshot of who they really were throughout their lives.
We come into their field of vision not familiar with family dynamics, emotional wounds, and even some of their greatest accomplishments they’ve had, and meet them in their final years. We come face-to-face with them as they are grappling with their mortality, regrets, and often chronic illnesses. We also come into contact with them when they have made peace with their lives, what was both done and undone, and are determined to live each remaining day to the fullest.

Love at the End of Life

 We meet them in these later years, and when their flesh and heart fail, we are often there. We will be with them until the end. We will comfort them if their family is not able to be there. We will know their favorite things and seek to bring them those things during the last hours. And most of all, we will love them as our own family, our hearts breaking each time we lose one of these beloved residents. And despite the heartache, we will continue to do this over and over again with each resident who calls our community their home.

If you work in senior living, you know this to be true; no doubt you’ve experienced it many times. My examples resonate not just in my community but in countless other senior communities everywhere. This is what senior living providers do day-in and day-out. Over and over again.
The next time a well- meaning publisher or filmmaker determines to delve into the deep, dark sectors of assisted living and senior care at large, I’d like to see them cover it from this perspective. I’d love to see an “expose” on Assisted Living that actually brings to light just how many lives most operators and their staff touch through their hard work and dedication. And finally, I’d love to see the families of those loved ones on camera, testifying to the quality of life we were able to provide and the love shown that was clearly much more than part of the job description.


That would be a documentary about Assisted Living worth seeing.