Final PBS Assisted Living Segment Zooms in on Acuity Questions

The final segment in an ongoing, four-part PBS/Frontline series “Life and Death in Assisted Living,” takes a close look at the acuity levels of residents who live in Emeritus assisted living communities, and questions whether the communities are equipped to provide the level of care needed. 

Delving deeper into a recent wrongful death case involving California Emeritus community Emerald Hill, which the investigation spotlights throughout its TV and print series, reporters look at an Emeritus company practice, its take on the “back door.” 

“Emeritus was intensely focused both on persuading people to move into its buildings and dissuading them from moving out,” the report states. “They did not want paying customers to, as they put it, go out the back door.”


Quoting from emails and input from employees, the report hones in on the company’s efforts to keep residents within the communities, claiming those efforts were without regard to increasing acuity levels. Emeritus responded to the claims via interviews and its website, stating the policy meant to retain residents to the best of the communities’ abilities. 

Emeritus has responded in detail to the report on its website under a new heading “Emeritus Facts.” The site refutes many claims the company says were made throughout the Frontline report, including its description of the company’s “back door” policy. 

“False,” Emeritus says in response to the claim Emeritus prevents residents from leaving even if their care needs require a higher level of care. 


“‘Close the back door’ is a term used commonly throughout the senior living industry. Emeritus employees may use the term to highlight the importance of providing a high quality of service to residents to ensure that the residents do not choose to move out because they are dissatisfied with customer service or any aspect of their lifestyle or situation at Emeritus,” the site reads. “We do monitor move-outs so that we can identify and correct any issues and enhance resident satisfaction.”

The company refutes close to two dozen points in detail. 

The segment points to the Emeritus wrongful death case in particular as an example of a resident with medical needs that grew with time, but who remained in the community for several months before ultimately moving to a nursing home, finding some staff felt they were not equipped to treat the patient’s needs, and quoting from court documents where the community’s director said she was in “over her head.” 

“Nancy Cordova, who ran the Emerald Hills facility during Joan’s stay, was asked a pointed question by a member of the jury. Was it fair to say, the juror asked, that Cordova, responsible for 80 or so residents, many of them with dementia, was ‘in over her head’? ‘I think that would be fair to say,’ answered Cordova.”

Emeritus refutes the claim and others.

“Emeritus does not employ any sales methods or directives intended to encourage staff to recruit residents with more acute care needs,” the company says. “As an industry, we’re seeing a trend of people delaying the decision to transition to senior living, possibly due to the struggling economy.”

Written by Elizabeth Ecker

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