Columnist Refutes Frontline’s Report on Assisted Living Industry

A recent column on takes a hard stance countering a multi-part series aired in July that purportedly portrayed the assisted living industry’s dark side.

“Rarely does an investigative report mange to unite industry executives, academics, and regulators in such a way as the recent Frontline/ProPublic Life and Death in Assisted Living,” writes Bruce Bialosky, a political columnist for Townhall who has consulted extensively with senior living companies. “Unfortunately for the producers and writers, they have united all three elements in expressing how their report misrepresented the industry.” 

The one-hour documentary that aired on PBS and an accompanying four-part series co-produced by ProPublica and Frontline delved into the assisted living industry and issues associated with staffing and training.


However, Bialosky in the column questions the series’ agenda and scope, such as why it focused only on Emeritus rather than the assisted living industry as a whole, or in comparison to home healthcare, and why nearly every incident reported on in the documentary and articles happened prior to 2010. 

Additionally, the show and columns focused heavily on federal regulation, despite the fact that assisted living is regulated on a state-by-state basis, but neglected to interview or reference state regulators. 

“One of the things that disappointed me was the lack of referral to the oversight agencies,” Ronald Melusky, director of Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Human Services Licensing, told Bialosky.


Melusky is also the president-elect of the National Association for Regulatory Administration, in which capacity he sent a letter to David Fanning, executive producer of Frontline, prior to the July airing of the documentary. 

“For each of the horror stories presented by [the Frontline/ProPublica] piece, there are thousands of people who live safely and happily in regulated long-term care settings thanks to effective and dedicated public licensing and regulatory administration programs,” the letter said. 

Another point of contention the Townhall column mentions is ProPublica’s claim that assisted living chains like Emeritus have a “powerful business incentive” to attract frailer, sicker residents who can be charged more for their care.

“Contrary to what was expressed in the show and column, you actually want less frail people because they stay longer,” Frank Haffner, president of American Senior Living, told Bialosky. “That reduces all the costs related to turnover of units and the related marketing costs to fill the unit. We are not interested in residents staying three to six months because their health issues determine that. That is more a nursing home model.” 

Townhall intends to continue its look into the Frontline/ProPublica series in the coming days.

Read the full column. 

Written by Alyssa Gerace

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