When it’s time to consider senior living arrangements for a loved one, many families turn to online referral services for guidance. But most consumers don’t know that many caregiving online resources are based on referrals and that the services are paid commissions by senior living operators for their work — sometimes $3,000 or more for one referral. Yet the model has gained significant traction over the past 10 or so years.
In some cases, an inquiry can turn into a barrage of sales calls to a family, and incentives driven by referral fees. This doesn’t necessarily benefit families or our industry.
I believe communities nationwide have many amazing local senior advisers that operate with the best intentions for their clients, regardless of who pays them. Families always will need help navigating the complexity of senior living, and these advisers play a critical role. I also believe that if advisers truly are mission-driven, then they will find success, regardless of whether big referral sites exist.
The real disconnect is between corporate referral sites and senior living and care organizations and families, in my opinion.
When consumers begin exploring senior living arrangements for a loved one, it’s likely they either need information right now to make a decision because of an emergency or immediate need (in this case, they should be able to quickly view their options based on those needs and decide), or they have time to research and possibly get a loved one more comfortable with this next step (in this case, they should be able to find the relevant information easily and make contact with those organizations that meet their particular needs).
Because referral sites have large databases, they have the ability to dominate local markets’ online search results. What consumers may not realize is that submitting their information on referral site forms automatically puts them into a sales engine that drives the revenue model for these sites, and they will be labeled as contract leads and immediately will receive calls and emails. The information they receive may not be very helpful for the purpose of selecting a community.
The issue can be traced to the source, which is the search engine. As a consumer, for example, if I search for “Senior Living in Dayton, Ohio,” the top five results likely will be referral websites. Consumers would benefit from another option, but because of search engine algorithms, most long-term care organizations can’t compete for those top spots.
So how do we as an industry transition away from this situation? Honestly, this is tough question. Although legislation has been passed, I don’t believe it is helping the issue. During every senior living event I’ve been to in the past seven years, there has been a conversation among senior leadership that organizations have to transition away from referral agencies — that the services wouldn’t survive if all long-term care organizations would stop working with them. This hasn’t happened, of course.
At the end of the day, the model affects senior living organizations as much as families. It’s not senior living organizations that need to change. Rather, the solution must come from the outside. Someone needs to create a model that ignores the money associated with referrals.
I believe that with some help, truly mission-driven advisers can play a critical role. If advisers can find a way to reduce the inherent bias that I believe comes with the current model, by contracting with every organization that meets established criteria that is transparently stated, then consumers should be able to choose a provider that aligns with their needs.
Michael Eidsaune is the founder and CEO of Carely, a platform of resources designed to help families and senior housing professional care providers collaborate.
The opinions expressed in Marketplace columns are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of McKnight’s Senior Living.