AC Thompson and ProPublica is back at it again with his vendetta against assisted living and Emeritus Senior Living.

AC Thompson and ProPublica is back at it again with his vendetta against assisted living and Emeritus Senior Living. On December 31, 2013 AC Thompson and ProPublica published the next installment in their apparent on-going effort to disembowel Emeritus Senior Living. This trash campaign serves to make assisted living more expensive and less available while frightening and confusing seniors and their families. In an article titled Churn of Assisted Living Deals, An Island of Misery Thompson tells the story of a 57 bed assisted living community located in McMinnville, OR. 

The very short version of the story is this:

  1. The property was owned and operated by Sunwest before they collapsed.  According to the article, the property was experiencing significant problems while owned by Sunwest.
  2. In 2010 Emeritus acquired this property as a part of a package of 144 Sunwest Communities.  While Emeritus clearly acquired a tremendous package of assets they also acquired a rat’s nest of operational problems that naturally come with distressed properties.
  3. In the fall of 2012 the property was sold to the REIT HCP, but Emeritus maintained the management contract for the community.
  4. Into 2013 there continued to be operational problems, including a threat by the state to shut the community down.
  5. Finally, sometime in 2013, Emeritus turned the day-to-day operations over to Aidan Health Services, a small company out of Salem, Oregon.

Unpacking the Story

First things first.  There is no doubt there were problems with this building and, to a greater or lesser degree, the problems continued after Emeritus took over the community.  That being said, the way Thompson has told this story is unfair:

  • Hurting the industry in general and Emeritus specifically seems to have become AC Thompson’s life purpose.  He believes federal regulation would make it better, which means he has not taken a serious look at the skilled nursing industry.
  • I suspect that, in his mind, Emeritus is emblematic of the industry and  could never be good enough no matter what they did or didn’t do.
  • LAST JUNE, MORE THAN SIX MONTHS AGO, THIS COMMUNITY HAD A DEFICIENCY FREE SURVEY.  Yet there is no mention of this in his article.
  • He quotes a number of experts, typically taking just a sentence or two, making me wonder what the context and qualifiers were.
  • The most outrageous things that happened, and are his story leads, are things that happened almost 10 years ago.  Way before Emeritus was involved in the communities.
  • He says: “The episodes of violence and neglect inside the McMinnville facility, if sad, are not particularly unique.”  This is simply misleading, episodes of violence and neglect in assisted living are unique.  They are rare.
  • He makes a big deal about the number of sale transactions in the industry that take place each year.  In truth transactions like this are primarily a financing vehicle that has little or nothing to do with community operations.

Did Emeritus Act Fast Enough?

Knowing that in June they had a deficiency free survey this becomes the overriding question.  From August, 2010 to June, 2013 seems to be a long time and yet . . .  turnarounds are difficult and expensive.  You need to start by seeing if you can work with the existing staff.  If that doesn’t work you need to find new staff, something that is particularly difficult in a small town. Given that hindsight is perfect there is no doubt they could have done a better job.  But I am not so sure, given the specific circumstances, it would have been a lot better.  Perhaps particularly import is to appreciate that the community didn’t go from a disaster in 2010 and in one fell swoop become deficiency free in 2013.  It was improving all along the way,with some setbacks as you might expect.  Prior to the 2013 survey there were other times when the building was in substantial compliance.

Teachable Moment

It is not real clear in the story but there were/are two governmental agencies involved in this mess: Oregon State licensing and Adult Protective Services (APS).  The reason APS was involved was that the community had significant resident-on-resident violence.  It appears that , when this happened, there was less than perfect communication between the senior community, meaning Emeritus, and the two government agencies. It is a natural thing: no one wants to self-report problems, particularly if they are already under the gun with the regulators and yet, after talking to Emeritus today, it sounds as if, they got themselves behind the 8 ball with the regulators and APS. My big takeaway in this whole story is transparency, transparency, transparency. With residents, families, regulators, the press, the public and, well, everyone.   When we fall on our own sward it is much less likely that others will continue to attack . . . . unless things have gotten too far down the road. I hate these stories because they hurt real residents, real staff, real seniors  and real families. Finally, this is a pretty small senior community that serves almost exclusively a low income group of seniors.  To Emeritus’s credit, if money were most important they probably would close the doors and cut their losses but, instead, they are doing all they can to fix the problem and serve their residents. Steve Moran

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