By Steve Moran

See part 1 of our response to the Washington Post series here.

This is the biggest Washington Post lie. But don’t get too excited about it ….

I have been running this one through my head all night long.

Based on the Washington Post article “Understaffed and Neglected: How Real Estate Investors Reshaped Assisted Living,” what happened to Mary Jo Staub was horrific and negligent by any standard, and was a massive staffing failure, but they got the kind of failure 100% wrong.

The Post’s conclusion is that the community needed more staff, but according to their own article, that is not where the problem was. Take a look (emphasis mine):

A lawsuit brought by Staub’s family alleged that the two staff members on duty — women who made around $20 an hour — had been in the third-floor theater room when they were supposed to be checking on Staub, who had been flagged for close monitoring because of confusion and hallucinations.

I actually have no idea whether or not staffing was adequate, but what I do know is that in this community, the number of staff members wasn’t the problem. The problem was that the two staff members who were on duty were not doing their job. They didn’t care enough to do what they were hired to do.

Would more staff members have helped? It is impossible to know. More staff members might simply have meant more team members hanging out in the “third-floor theater room.”

The Fix

I know Balfour by reputation and know, though not well, some leaders and former leaders. The same is true for Kisco. I don’t know either organization well enough to paint them with a broad negative brush. But it is fair to assume with near 100% certainty that at least with respect to local leadership, they created a culture where this behavior was tolerated.

Further evidence of this:

Since Balfour sold its properties to corporate investors in 2014, the vast majority of citations have indicated problems with staff.

And if you watch the video, you can see another woman wandering the halls who could have easily left the building — further evidence that at least the night staff didn’t care and wasn’t doing their job. Continuing on …

However, they did not record any checks in Lavender Farms’ records. One of the women left the building shortly before midnight, security-camera footage shows. The other had previously been reported to management for sleeping during night shifts and letting resident calls go unanswered for hours, said a former employee who witnessed and reported this behavior but was not authorized to publicly discuss personnel matters.

This section is admittedly confusing. It is apparently talking about the two caregivers. Did the one who left leave only one caregiver on duty? Did she come back? Did someone else come on? But what is critical to the staffing problem is that one of them had been reported for sleeping on duty and letting resident calls go unanswered.

If this is true, then it is a massive management failure and should be a lesson to every industry leader who tolerates this kind of behavior.

One of our biggest fails as an industry is that when we see an operator (company, community, or individual leader) do something terrible, we stay silent. The silence is for at least two reasons:

  1. There but for the grace of God. In truth, no matter how good you are, sometimes things go bad. It might be circumstances, it might be a single bad team member, it might be a predator who walks through the front door. We know this and don’t want figures pointed at us. While there was for sure some bad luck here, it was ultimately a disaster waiting to happen. We should be willing to say, “That was terrible; it was a leadership failure.” “That is not who we are and what we stand for.”
  2. Not wanting to make senior living look bad. I get this sentiment. The Post has already done a fine job of tarnishing our reputation, but our silence actually makes us look worse than speaking out.

All of this is why at Foresight, we spend so much time talking about workplace culture. In those communities, in those organizations, where there is a sense of mission and purpose, these things don’t happen. In 2024, watch for some exciting new ways we will be expanding our mission of making the lives of residents and team members better.