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McKnight’s Editorial Director John O’Connor
John O'Connor
John O’Connor

If you are a senior living operator, you probably can’t wait for 2023 to end. Let’s face it, the past few weeks have put many a community in damage-control mode.

Consider the most recent development. In his Monday podcast (which receives more than a million downloads each month), Consumer Advocate Clark Howard ripped the industry a new one. Or at least, those in the industry that pass off commissioned salespeople as independent consultants. Many of those “helpers” quote pricing that is a fraction of what customers actually will pay, once the extra fees are included.

Howard added that “a lot of these assisted living facilities have been bought by Wall Street crowd types, private equity outfits that are just trying to squeeze as much money out of desperate families as they can.”

“There are perfectly wonderful, good people and facilities in this industry,” he noted. “And then there’s the dirt.”

That caveat emptor reminder was practically a wet kiss when compared with two earlier developments. One is a series of articles appearing Sunday in the Washington Post that link “dangerously understaffed” assisted living communities to thousands of elopements and nearly a hundred deaths.

“In case after case examined by The Post, inspectors cited evidence of too few people on duty to care for the number of residents, of staff ignoring alarms, of skipped bed checks and staff sleeping on the job, of general neglect and, in a few cases, falsified records,” the paper reported.

Not exactly a glowing review, is it?

Prior to that report, KFF and the New York Times published a “Dying Broke” series. The headline probably tells you all you need to know about where the series went. While the reporting generally focused on the general nature of the nation’s long-term care crisis, senior living operators were painted with a less-than-flattering brush.

Those critiques are troubling for many reasons, but two stand out.

One is that the concerns they collectively raised are valid. The second is that such revelations hardly support  the industry’s long-held position that there’s no real need for federal oversight.

Who knows? If people keep reading about problems of and by senior living, they might start wondering whether senior living is well enough to be left alone.

John O’Connor is editorial director for McKnight’s Senior Living and its sister media brands, McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, which focuses on skilled nursing, and McKnight’s Home Care. Read more of his columns here.

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