Health News Review

The PBS Frontline/ProPublica program, “Life and Death in Assisted Living,” left me numb, angry, and worried.

As the son of parents whom we moved into an “assisted living” facility a year ago, my eyes have been opened to what you don’t get for your investment.

This program makes clear:

  • These are not health care facilities.
  • It’s essentially an expensive real estate industry.
  • It’s an industry that’s largely unregulated.
  • We were – as I suspect many people are – naive about what “assisted living” really means.

I urge you to watch, and to join in the discussion.

Watch Life and Death in Assisted Living on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.


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Frugal Nurse posted on July 31, 2013 at 11:17 am

I haven’t watched yet, but will. From my experience both as a nurse and as someone who has helped elderly relatives, I completely agree that many of these “assisted living” facilities are not meant for people with medical concerns. They are adequate, if expensive, for independent seniors who want to socialize and don’t want the burden of a house. But if you need help with medications, blood sugar testing, memory issues, etc., the care is sub-optimal. The marketing is intense, because they need to fill these rooms. Some are better than others and due diligence is imperative.

Today’s seniors are living longer but with more chronic health concerns. In-home care is probably the most cost effective and safest, but it’s not perfect, either. The facilities that are regulated, such as skilled nursing facilities and adult family homes, are usually for a much more impaired demographic.

Marilynn Larkin posted on July 31, 2013 at 5:03 pm

I went through the painful decline of my mother over a five -year period…from her own apartment, to a part-time aide, to a full-time aide, to assisted living/dementia care. It was tortuous for me and my brother, who essentially alternated going to Florida (my mother refused to leave) monthly during this time. We had an amazing geriatric care manager who was a tremendous and powerful advocate (the assisted living facilities, in particular, wanted his referrals). I remember going with him to choose an assisted living. One was a beautiful hotel-like building–but it was clearly pitched to adult children; the residents sat around with glassy stares. Another “village” type campus had an attitude–oh your mother is combative sometimes? We don’t want her. We finally settled on one that looked plain from the outside, but keep the residents active and as engaged as possible. Looks are deceiving. I’ll add that when my mother was in the so-called “best” hospital in the Boca area, the care was atrocious. There was one MRI machine—I had to fight my way into the administrator’s office to get my mother moved up on the list…If I watch this show, I may get PTSD.

Candy McGowan posted on July 31, 2013 at 8:49 pm

We moved my late mother to an “assisted living” facility a few years ago, and it was an eye-opener. It mght have been nice, if quite expensive, for a senior citizen in decent health and independent. For someone like Mom, who had Parkinsons and actually needed assistance with many daily living tasks, it was a big, unfriendly, very expensive mistake.

Silver Fox posted on August 1, 2013 at 7:09 am

I watched the PBS documentary “Life and Death in Assisted Living” and even though the allegtions may be true, there are other facilities such as nursing homes, even skilled nursing homes that also need to be investigated for exactly the same type of offenses. Most of these facilities lack proper help and are understaffed to care for the amount of patients in thier care. Walk into any of these care units and notice the amount of patients that are sitting in wheel chairs like zombies due to over medication; check during breakfast, lunch and dinner time and see the trays that are not touched because there is no one to feed the patient which leads to malnutrition. It is an appalling situation and unless a family member is there to assist their loved one, they are neglected. Staff needs to be better educated, paid a reasonable salary,and monitored carefully. Home care also needs to be monitored as some of the above can also take place there. What is the solution?? Depends on how the family can cope- home care with caretakers full of TLC would be the answer but this too, can be expensive. I know of families where one person gave up their full time job to care for the loved one and other members contributed to her salary.
Family members should be allowed to care for thier loved ones and be reimbursed by insurance companies for the time involved. The Boice family were awarded a large sum of money at trial- perhaps they could use this to start a “Caring Place” of thier own and be able to monitor the care given to patients. The site called “A Place for Mom” is a great resource, but you must have the finances to afford what they offer and not many peope do. I could go on and on, but there is not enough space and I don’t want to be boring. As a senior citizen and a retired LPN who has worked in many nursing homes I can only wish everyone good health, be safe, take care, and pray that the future will be a pleasant one for you.
The Silver Fox(85 yrs. young)

Laurence Alter posted on August 2, 2013 at 10:09 am

Dear Mr. Schwitzer & Staff:

I greatly appreciate your news analyses, and we have corresponded before.

Unfortunately, you lower yourself by *deigning* to take television reporting (“journalism”) with any degree of seriousness or sophistication. The public has successfully been led to trust a medium that hardly trusts itself: television producers admitting that “ratings” are what really counts. A ‘document-ary’ is cleverly worded to sound like the program is document-sourced and referenced. Public television hardly increases value or benefit.

A true service on your part would be to dissuade persons seeking knowledge to ‘fall for’ bits & pieces of information instead. Print journalism is a serious step forward and writers of general – interest magazines are generally trained. Too, there are less restraints in most magazine articles: even ‘average’ feature news articles (from the likes of “Vanity Fair” or “Esquire”) make a mockery of the very best that television has to offer. Less watered-down and compressed; more language used to explain and analyze (unless you have been suckered into believing “A picture is worth ten thousand words” which, naturally, requires language to state). Ever wonder what television reporters have in the way of professional background? Ever wonder what types of reading they do in their spare time?


Laurence Alter

    Gary Schwitzer posted on August 2, 2013 at 1:48 pm


    There is perhaps no one who has been so frequent a critic of television health care reporting as I. Anyone who has followed this site over time would see that. Here are just a few examples of what we’ve published.

    I know the territory, having worked in television news for 15 years.

    But I couldn’t disagree more with your comment.

    Did you watch the PBS Frontline special in question? It has drawn rave reviews from critics far and wide. It tackled a topic that few have touched and it devoted an hour to it, with a great deal of investigation, research, and storytelling evident in the final product.

    As a frequent media critic, I’d be the first to say that you can’t generalize about one media format. You can’t say all television reporting is bad. You can’t say that all print reporting is better.

    And if you did watch the PBS Frontline special and have specific criticisms of it, that would be more helpful than broadbrush blasting of all television reporting.

    Alan posted on August 5, 2013 at 11:23 am

    I would suggest, Mr Alter, you become familiar with the work of ProPublica before you dismiss this story out of hand.

Linda Jansen posted on August 5, 2013 at 9:43 am

My Mother is currently in a memory care unit in Denver, Colorado and is getting very good care. While I realize that this is not a medical unit, whenever Mom’s medical needs increase, her doctor has a nurse come in to see her as often as necessary, and she has also has had physical therapy and occupational therapy too. Her doctor sees her at the facility, and she has lab, ultrasounds, xrays, and dental work done there too. Altogether a great place, although expensive on a monthly basis.

Aggie posted on August 11, 2013 at 11:53 pm

I agree with the person who said nursing homes have these same issues and worse. The aim by progrrams such as this is to have assisted living facilities regulated and licensed by governmeht. This does nothing to make these places better, it just adds a layer of expense and red tape.

I suspect that companies that own and manage nursing homes are behind this push for more regulation. They don’t like the competition. Of course, our power hungry politicians are happy to oblige, no doubt in exchange for campaign contributions.

As with most things, follow the money.

    Gary Schwitzer posted on August 12, 2013 at 8:05 am


    It was not nursing homes pushing for more regulation that were behind this PBS Frontline/ProPublica investigation.

    It was independent journalism and investigation.

    Did you watch the report? There were compelling stories of individuals and their families calling for regulations and improvement in assisted living facilities.