Tuesday, September 11, 2018

How Lack of Transparency Harms "Senior Living" as an Industry

I'm preparing for an upcoming program in North Carolina and residents of senior living communities have sent me questions in advance.  The questions I've received are a reminder that "transparency" is a big issue.  As one resident candidly explained, "No population is more vulnerable than seniors living in managed care.... I consider myself among the vulnerable."   I've come to believe that lack of transparency impacts virtually all of the options for financing of senior living, including long-term care insurance and continuing care communities.  The problem is that many prospective clients do not know who they can trust, and many end up trusting no one.  They end up not making any advance plan.

For example, this week there is industry-sourced news that 33 facilities operated under the umbrella of Atrium Health and Senior Living, a New Jersey-based company, are going into receivership. These include 9 "senior living communities" and 23 "skilled nursing facilities" in Wisconsin, plus a skilled nursing facility in Michigan.  Atrium is also reported as operating 3 senior living communities and 9 skilled nursing facilities in New Jersey that "are not part of the receivership."  If you look at the company's website today, however, it won't be easy to find news that insolvency is already impacting this company's sites.  At least as of the time of my writing this blog post, there's only "good news" on the company's website.   

The public tends not to distinguish between different types of senior living options, at least not until individuals get fairly close to needing to make choices about moving out of their own homes.  I can easily imagine anyone who has done enough advance research to know about troubled companies to simply make a decision to steer clear of all facilities operated under a particular company name.  But, I suspect there is also a much larger population of prospective residents who view reports of troubled senior living companies or facilities as a reason to reject all of the options.  

Some providers will say that the problem is that "bad news" is over-reported.  I don't think that is actually true.  Rather, I think that there in most states is it hard to distinguish between financially sound or unsound options.  Certainly, I've known state regulators who decline to talk about troubled properties on a theory that bad news may make it harder for struggling operations to work out their problems as they cannot attract new customers.  Lack of transparency is argued as an explanation for giving operators a fair chance to recover, and recovery helps everyone.  

States, however, have unique opportunities to learn from their roles as receivers for troubled operations.  Wouldn't it be helpful for states to publish accurate information about what factors they have discovered that contribute to success or lack of financial success?  And if not the regulators, why not have the industry itself publish standards of financial health.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/elder_law/2018/09/how-lack-of-transparency-harms-senior-living-as-an-industry.html

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