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

When it comes to bad publicity, is there a more snakebitten senior living organization than Brookdale?

The nation’s largest senior living operator, with more than 650 communities, just seems to constantly find itself circling the wagons.

From an ill-fated national branding campaign to frequent changes at the top, to a constant parade of lawsuits, it seems there is always some kind of dark cloud hanging over the Brentwood, TN-based operator.

And just when it seemed that the firm finally was regaining post-COVID occupancy and fiscal traction, more bad news arrived this week.

A salacious report in the Washington Post slammed Brookdale for using an algorithm-based “Service Alignment” staffing tool that, at least according to critics, left many of its communities completely undermanned.

Brookdale’s own building managers complained to upper management about the issue, the story noted. More troubling still, inadequate staffing allegedly led to residents going without showers, rooms not being cleaned and a lack of needed supervision.

To be fair, those are allegations that Brookdale is pushing back against. Strongly.

A company spokesperson told McKnight’s Senior Living that the company disagreed with the characterizations leveled against the Service Alignment tool.

“The handful of examples cited in this article fail to take into account the full set of facts and are otherwise not representative of Brookdale’s mission of enriching the lives of those we serve with compassion, respect, excellence and integrity,” the spokesperson said, adding that the company’s top priority is to earn its customers’ trust and satisfaction by providing high-quality care and personalized service.

Argentum President and CEO James Balda called the media outlet’s portrayal of assisted living a “slanted and incomplete portrait.”

“The Post fails to acknowledge that older adults who live in senior housing communities live longer, receive more healthcare services and benefit from greater rehabilitative and preventive care than those who do not,” Balda told McKnight’s Senior Living. 

As for my take?

I think we all can agree that Brookdale is committed to delivering high-quality care and services to its customers. I also happen to have a great deal of respect for Cindy Baier, the firm’s president and CEO. She has done a marvelous job of righting the ship.

But I do think it’s fair to ask whether the Service Alignment algorithm was sometimes — and perhaps more than sometimes — used to justify staffing numbers that simply don’t pass the smell test.

Not that my opinion really matters here. A couple of pending lawsuits are likely to make that argument in no uncertain terms.

And depending on how those cases turn out, Brookdale once again may find itself dealing with unwanted headaches.

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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