Is Assisted Living Safe for Your Parents?

Eric’s mother Joan died after being moved out of an assisted living facility, where she sustained life-threatening wounds. Cheryl’s husband, George — who suffered from dementia — died after he was left unsupervised and drank industrial strength dishwashing fluid.  These true stories and others are exposed on Life and Death in Assisted Living, a documentary where FRONTLINE correspondent and ProPublica reporter A.C. Thompson goes behind the closed doors of assisted living facilities.

As America’s senior population grows faster and lives longer, more families are turning to assisted living facilities to help their loved ones age in comfort and safety.  Assisted living is also a multi-billion dollar, loosely-regulated industry. The FRONTLINE documentary begs the question: who can we trust to care for our aging parents? Should assisted living facilities — home to 750,000 American seniors — be subject to more oversight?

Assisted living underwent a big growth spurt in the 1990s as major corporations built and bought facilities. The documentary focuses on one of the largest American assisted living chains, Emeritus, a company that made nearly $1.6 billion in revenue last year. In making the documentary, ProPublica and PBS FRONTLINE sifted through thousands of pages of regulatory records from seven states — Texas, California, Iowa, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio and Florida.  Since 2007, inspectors in each state have cited Emeritus for housing seniors who should have been moved out. According to the documentary, although they feature attractive grounds and amenities, the care that some assisted living facilities provide tends to be mediocre at best.

What were some of the issues found?

  •  Many of these communities don’t hire or retain enough adequately trained staff to support their residents multiple health problems and high rates of cognitive loss;
  • Unlike federally regulated nursing homes, assisted living facilities are governed by state laws and some provide decent oversight, while others remain quite lax;
  • Pressure to keep apartments filled, labor costs low, and shareholders happy increases the likelihood of someone who is too old and frail remaining in an assisted living facility, and a tragedy occurring.

Assisted living remains a reasonable option for people who can’t manage their own households any longer, who need help with personal care, but who aren’t so ill that they require 24/7 nursing.  If you are looking into assisted living facilities for a loved one, be sure to pay attention to state regulations, as assisted living facilities are not federally-regulated like nursing homes. Ask questions, such as how often a nurse is on the premises, the extent of staff training, and what happens should a health problem arise. For more details about the documentary, please read the NY Times Post, A Dark View of Assisted Living.

If you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, please call The Fairfax Medicaid Asset Protection Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. at 703-691-1888 to make an appointment for a consultation. 

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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