By Steve Moran

John Oliver is the host of the HBO series “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”. He has been described as a “comedic agent of change . . . powerful because he isn’t afraid to tackle important issues thoughtfully, without fear or apology”, (Wikipedia). Last night (April 11) he took on nursing homes and assisted living communities.

It was not pretty . . . you can watch the whole thing below.

What He Got Right

He got some things right:

  • He understands the difference between nursing homes and assisted living.
  • If you need or want senior living and you have enough money you have lots of great choices.
  • From time to time bad things, even negligent things, happen in senior living. 
  • There are some scamsters and bad players in the world of senior living.
  • The regulatory and reimbursement system is severely broken.

What’s Wrong with His Broadcast

It was a largely unfair hatchet piece. Imagine for a moment that a video crew followed John Oliver around for a month videotaping everything he did, every encounter he had with anyone over anything. I promise you could edit that tape down to 22 minutes of making him look like a saint or making him look like an unhinged lunatic.

For the sake of sensationalism, he cherry-picked without context making senior living and nursing homes look terrible and home care look nearly perfect. Here is what he got wrong:

  • Many of the stories he used are old. One is nearly 12 years old. It suggests that we are doing pretty damn good if he had to dig that deep.
  • His suggestion that for-profit nursing homes are terrible and not-for-profit are good completely misses the reality that most not-for-profits don’t serve Medicaid residents.
  • He all but ignored the reality that if the federal government provided fair funding for Medicaid residents’ conditions would be much much better in nursing homes.
  • He said this: “. . . 82% of homes had been cited for infection prevention and control deficiencies”. What he fails to say is that in most cases these infractions were minor and insignificant.
  • He goes on a huge rant about a resident who walked away from a senior living community and was attacked and killed by an alligator. First, this is a 6-year-old story. Second, it completely ignores the reality of resident rights. Third, he suggests that no one should build senior living communities near where alligators live.

    He seems to miss the reality that there are vast swaths of the south where alligators are pretty much everywhere.

Worst of All

Worst of all is that he suggests that aging at home is always, or essentially always, better for older people. This is simply wrong and potentially lethal. Sure, some people are better off at home. And freedom of choice is important. But we know that isolation both kills people and decreases quality of life. We also know that in many cases, even when caregivers come to the home, it does not mean they are having the meaningful human-to-human interactions and connections that each of us needs.

Counteracting This

As an industry, we mostly just stand by and take this crap (can I say that?). We need to be much more aggressive about being better about telling our story.

This means collecting and telling stories, hiring publicists to get our story out there — like what Judson Manor did back in 2015. It also means when we see senior living organizations that are consistently making the industry look bad, we should be at the front of the line calling out that bad behavior and saying “that’s not us.”

Today instead of doing that, we silently hang our heads in embarrassment and just hope our community and or organization doesn’t get tainted by the stink. But in reality, we do get tainted, every one of us. Even the very best.

This is terrible for us, but it is all a tremendous opportunity to get better and tell our story right.

Here’s the full video (foul language warning):

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