PBS Previews Forthcoming Assisted Living Documentary

***Update: Read our coverage of the industry’s response to last night’s airing of Life and Death in Assisted Living

The senior living industry is poised for Tuesday night’s airing of a one-hour documentary titled “Life and Death in Assisted Living”—exploring the state-regulated assisted living industry—on PBS, which released previews of its coverage earlier this week.

Frontline and ProPublica have teamed up for the multi-part series on assisted living with Emeritus Senior Living (NYSE:ESC), the largest assisted living provider in the nation, as one of its main subjects.


The series and documentary are the culmination of a year’s worth of interviews and reporting, according to ProPublica and PBS Frontline, including multiple interviews with Emeritus, which maintains not all available information and interviews have been used in the reporting made available thus far.

While the segment is forthcoming, PBS has released some video and text from its report on its website.

“As more and more elderly Americans choose to spend their later years in assisted living facilities, Frontline and ProPublica examine whether this loosely regulated, multi-billion dollar industry is putting seniors at risk,” write reporters A.C. Thompson and Jonathan Jones.


The documentary and the report promise to explore a headline case involving Joan Boice, an 81-year-old with Alzheimer’s disease, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis who died in 2008 following a brief stay at an Emeritus community, leading to a subsequent lawsuit and $23 million in punitive damages awarded to her family.

ProPublica and Frontline also examine Emeritus’ “rapid” growth trajectory as the assisted living industry developed, evolved, and exploded in popularity. Reporters spoke with Emeritus executives and lawyers; assisted living industry leaders; families of current and former residents of Emerald Hill, including the surviving family of Boice and their lawyers; and current and former workers at all levels from that community.

Emeritus contends the reporters resisted attempts to be connected with residents and families who had favorable stories and experiences.

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“We are extremely disappointed by this report, which did nothing to represent the dedication and commitment of our staff to each and every one of our residents,” said Karen Lucas, vice president of product development and communications at Emeritus. “After nearly a full year of our complete support and cooperation with the ProPublica reporters, we are disappointed to see that they have used very little of the interviews, answers or data that we provided to them.”

Many senior living professionals are concerned about the series’ potential impact on the industry and how it is regulated.

“You’d be naive not to be concerned about it,” said Dan Decker, president and owner of Coastwood Senior Housing Partners, an investor in the Sunrise Senior Living management company, during SHN’s 2013 Senior Housing Summit last week. “Certainly [the documentary] could be a catalyst for consideration of federal legislation.”

Read more at PBS.

Written by Alyssa Gerace

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