PBS Frontline on Assisted Living Facilities Offers Cautionary Tale

Dorian Martin Health Guide

    The text messages were flying between Mara (whose mother-in-law is in an assisted living facility near where she lives) and me yesterday evening.


    Me: You should watch (PBS’s) Frontline at 9 p.m. It’s going to be on assisted living.


    Mara: Saw your (Facebook) post. I will watch.


    Me (after watching a significant portion of the documentary): Your MIL isn’t in an Emeritus facility, is she?


    Mara: No.


    Mara: I’m not 100% satisfied but it isn’t horrible like Emeritus.


    Me: This is really eye-opening….


    Mara (toward the end of the documentary): I’m going to start visiting more often & get to know the managers.

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    Me: Exactly….



    I hope you had the opportunity to watch this special. If not, you can stream the show from the PBS website. It’s definitely worth watching if you are an adult child of an elder who already live in this type of facility or are exploring the possibility of placing a loved one into assisted living. My 87-year-old father (who lives with me and who does not have dementia, but does have other health issues) was glued to the television.


    Many of the cases described in the documentary involved residents who had Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia. For instance, the documentary describes one resident with dementia, who had only been living in the Emeritus facility for 19 days and who had suffered a fall during that time, developed a pressure ulcer/wound on her foot. These sores form when the person is not able to move around freely and develop more quickly when the patient lies in bed or sits in a chair for long periods of time. This inactivity causes the skin to break down and die, allowing a hole to grow that can be invaded by bacteria. The bacteria then can eat the elder’s flesh or attack the blood and bones, thus posing a tremendous risk to the elder’s life. However, most of these bed sores are avoidable. Frontline noted that assisted living facilities could house elders who have sores that could be classified as Stage 1 or Stage 2, but only if a skilled medical professional is available to treat the elder.


    In this particular case, the assisted living facility staff did document the bed sore, but did not follow the requirements to contact the elder’s doctor when she developed the skin wound. Furthermore, a nurse did not treat the sore and the elder’s family was not told about the wound’s development. Two weeks after the wound was first noticed by the Emeritus staff, they faxed a message to the patient’s physician, who promptly instructed that the elder be brought in for x-rays. However, the assisted living staff neglected to tell the elder’s family about the doctor’s order, even though they – and not the assisted living facility – were responsible for taking her to the doctor. Three weeks later, the facility finally told the family about the pressure sore on her foot. After seeing the elder, the doctor thought the sore was beginning to heal but thought that the elder had been left lying on her side for long periods of time. The doctor didn’t examine the elder for additional sores, but found she had lost mobility in the right side of her body. He ordered physical therapists and sent her back to the assisted living facility where weeks later she developed pressure ulcers across her body. Needless to say, this story does not end well.


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    This wasn’t the only case documented by Frontline at Emeritus residents. Earlier ABC News reported on one man with dementia who lived at an Atlanta assisted-living facility owned by Emeritus wandered unsupervised one night and found a cleaning room unsecured. He drank liquid from a bottle of industrial-strength detergent, which in turn burned his lips, esophagus and lungs. Another incident involved a woman with Alzheimer’s at an Emeritus facility in Mississippi who decided she wanted to leave the facility. She packed up her things, opened her window and fell two stories. She died from her injuries.


    I am still processing this documentary and plan to post more thoughts at a later date. But until then, I encourage you to follow Mara’s lead:  “I’m going to start visiting more often & get to know the managers.”


    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:


    Donaldson, S. (2013). Dad dies after drinking poison in assisted living. ABC News.


    Frontline. (2013). Life and death in assisted living. PBS.


    Rosenfeld, J. (2010). Wrongful death lawsuit alleges that an Emertus assisted living facilities gross neglect of dementia patient results in death. Nursing Homes Abuse Blog.

Published On: July 31, 2013