Back To The Vulnerable Elderly

Back To The Vulnerable Elderly
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Atria Senior Living and Lazard -- I've been writing about bigger-picture issues but today I'd like to go back where this started, to the most vulnerable people - the elderly. The residents at the Atria Senior Living facilities are the direct victims of a big company buying up a number of senior living chains, combining them into one big chain and then financializing this as an investment, because everyone knows that the Boomers are getting old so this is a great way to get in on the ground floor of a growing business.

But viewing elderly people as a business and good investment is the wrong way to approach this. It's backwards. It should be, let's take care of elderly people, and do a good job, and provide a good service, and be fairly compensated for our efforts. That is how a business should be run. The goal is doing a great job with the product or service provided, not makingthe quick buck by cutting back services and squeezing employees. This si the new American way of looking at business, but it is just wrong.

Starting this series, I wrote,

To set the stage, think about yourself getting old, or about your parents or grandparents. Think about reaching a point where you just can't quite get by living on your own at home anymore. So at some point you decide you have to move into a senior facility. What about if you need assisted-living facilities -- a place with people to help you take a shower and things like that. And finally, think about when you might need "memory care." (This is a the name for a special facility for people with Alzheimer's disease.)

These are people who are in no condition to fight battles. Vulnerable is the word here. Extremely vulnerable. You would think people in this phase of their live are people who our society would give special care, special attention, special protections. You would think that our society would join together to take care of them, protect them, shelter them, fight for them.

But not in today's America. You see, there is one more fact about these people: the people who move into a senior facility do so because they can afford to. These places are not cheap. In today's America the people without money are on their own without care, but if you have some money you have at least some value -- to a certain kind of company.

OK, we have the perfect combination here. We have elderly, frail, sick, vulnerable, and they have some money. They are a captive audience, too, because people in this situation are not people who can pack up and move somewhere else. Senior care is a big business. You're talking about chains with hundreds of facilities each with dozens or even hundreds of living units you're talking REAL money. So in today's economy you're talking about a perfect target for exploitation. This week I am going to explore what it means to be vulnerable. But I think you can already guess where this is going.

What's happening at Atria-the gouging of seniors' meager disposable income to ensure profit margins are met, even while services and benefits are cut and rents are increased dramatically-is an extreme, but all-too-real example of what's happening all over the globe...the systematic transfer of wealth and the power to create wealth from the larger mass of the human community to a select class of uber-wealthy players at the top of the social scale. It's worth looking at the issue in a larger context, if only to reiterate what I think most of us already know...that we're being robbed, cheated, gouged, and nickel-and-dimed to death to make others rich.

To change this, to bring America back to sound business practices, where you provide a good product or service, and then you are fairly compensated, will be a long effort. We have to get peoplo eback out of the quick buck mentality. We have to find ways to prevent the Bruce Wassersteins and the Lazards and the Atrias from gaming the system to their own advantage. (Like how Lazard claims to be a "Bermuda-based" company when they are not.)

Atria could increase its services to the residents, and pay fair wages and benefits to their workers instead of making the seniors into a product they package up for their investors. Lazard could ask its investors to expect a fair return on their investment instead of hoping to cash in big on the next big trend. But then, this would be a very different country for that to happen.

This post was sponsored in part by The Campaign To Improve Assisted Living.

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