By Steve Moran
Sunday, the Washington Post published a series of damning articles about assisted living. The anchor article is titled “Senior Homes Left Dangerously Understaffed Amid Assisted-Living Boom.”* The stories of residents wandering and dying tug at your heart and create fear and outrage. Ultimately this is the goal of a series like this.
Over the next week or two, we will publish a series of articles inspired by this series and explore what we need to learn from it — and how we can use it to be even better.
The 9 Ways the Washington Post Misleads
- There are millions of happy consumers. Right now, today, as you read this, there are somewhere between two and three million older people living in senior living. Most of them are delighted to be there and are having better living experiences than if they were living at home.
- Home can be a dangerous place for older people. If you were to assume that this series was painting a fair picture of the dangers of assisted living, you’d be missing one key factor: They never address the question, “Compared to what?” I find myself wondering how many older people will end up alone in their homes because of these kinds of articles articles — and end up so much more in jeopardy, not getting adequate help with ADLs, meals, and medication management. Sitting alone watching TV all day long because they are afraid of the very thing that will make their lives vastly better.
- No matter what, bad stuff happens. Airlines have airplanes that crash, and people die. Hospitals make mistakes that cost people’s lives. Nuclear plants leak radiation. Cars crash, children are abused at school.
- There will always be some bad actors. This is not to say that the specific players mentioned in any of these articles are bad actors, but rather, they fail to acknowledge this as a possibility.
- Without for-profit senior living, millions would go unserved. This whole Washington Post series is a not-so-subtle dig at the for-profit segment of senior living. This is unfair in so many ways:
- The not-for-profit world does not have the capacity this country needs.
- The not-for-profit world does very little to serve the middle- and lower-income segments of the marketplace.
- There are some crummy not-for-profit operators, and many more fine ones.
- Most for-profit operators are amazing and 100% committed to creating great resident and family experiences as cost effectively as possible.
- Regulations are not the answer. The article suggests we need national regulations to protect residents. It ignores the reality of the nursing home industry, where they are by any measure over-regulated. They still have huge quality problems. Regulation has massively increased costs and made it much tougher to create great living experiences.
- Increasing pay rates has consequences. I don’t know a single industry leader who thinks frontline workers are paid enough money. But if we paid $25 an hour, it would mean significant rate increases for residents, which would mean fewer residents being served. (Though a few years ago I did advocate for $25 an hour. You can read about it here.)
- There are no positive stories in this series. If their reporting were fair and balanced, they would have told at least a few stories about people whose lives have been transformed for the better. And not just the lives of residents but the lives of their family members as well.
- There are no positive solutions in this series. Their simple solution is more regulations, which even they know is not a real solution. I want them to come tell the industry how to provide better quality senior living without breaking the bank.
Don’t get too excited by this article. In the next few, I will be talking about why this series should be a wake-up call to the industry.
Finally, remember that as painful as this is to the industry, if you were to go out on the streets and ask 100 people what they thought of the Washington Post series on assisted living, I would be amazed if you could find three who even knew what you were talking about.
*It appears that the Washington Post has since changed the headline to “Understaffed and Neglected: How Real Estate Investors Reshaped Assisted Living.