Life and death in assisted living: A FRONTLINE/ProPublica investigative report

More and more elderly Americans are electing to spend their later years in assisted living facilities, intended for people who cannot live on their own, but who do not need the standard of 24/7 medical care nursing homes provide.

That said, there's really no specific definition of what "assisted living" means, though there's no question this type of care has become a multi-billion-dollar a year business in the U.S. Because there are 50 states, and licensing and regulation of assisted care facilities happen at the state level, oversight and enforcement are inconsistent, often loose. Couple that with a quest for profits and you've got a situation causing nationwide concern as to whether some practices in the industry might be putting senior citizens at risk.

PBS' Frontline, in collaboration with ProPublica, an independent, non-profit news organization that produces public-interest journalism, will on Tuesday night broadcast the results of a major investigation into the operations of Emeritus Senior Living, the largest assisted living company in the U.S.

Together with FRONTLINE, Yahoo! News previews this investigative report here, with an exclusive video excerpt from Tuesday night's show.

You can see FRONTLINE's online report here.

You can see ProPublica's online report here.

In the video above, FRONTLINE and ProPublica discuss the issue of one senior who took a fall at one of Emeritus' facilities and was found face down on the floor. Suffering from dementia, she was taken to the hospital alonge because the facility didn't have enough staff to go with her to the hospital and talk to doctors on her behalf. When she returned, she was put in a bed and her condition began to deteriorate, until she developed pressure ulcers and extensive skin damage. She stayed at Emeritus' Emerald Hills facility for weeks, even though the laws of the state prohibit seniors with such serious wounds to remain in assisted living.

A staff member tried to tend to her wounds, and was told by her boss, "just don't let anybody know." In the course of further investigating this situation, the show's producers discovered Emeritus had what was called a "Keep the Back Door Shut" policy -- meaning: Don't let anybody out unless they're dead.

However, Emeritus' CEO, Granger Cobb, testified under oath that the policy has a different meaning: ...It refers to trying to do everything we can . . . families usually want their loved ones to stay with us as long as possible, as opposed to skilled nursing and varying institutional environments. So we try to work with the families and do all we can to -- to, you know, accommodate that."

Check local listings here using your zip code to see what time "Life and Death in Assisted Living" airs in your area on July 30.

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