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For Assisted Living Industry, a Media Strategy to Thwart Federal Oversight – Assisted Living Neglect Lawyer Nathan Hughey

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We have had numerous wrongful death and other assisted living cases resolve recently, having had a wrongful death settlement hearing yesterday and having another Monday.


This story has been updated with a roundup of Emeritus employee responses. NewHLF300x300

Emeritus Senior Living, the country’s largest assisted living company, has crafted detailed plans to respond to PBS Frontline and ProPublica’s investigation of the company and the assisted living industry.

Saying the report could lead to “the call for more stringent regulation,” the company emailed an eight-page strategy memo to the leaders of the nation’s major assisted living chains, asking them to put up a “united front.” Karen Lucas, the company’s vice president for communications, said Emeritus developed the media strategy in conjunction with trade groups and other assisted living firms.

“Everyone is working together to make sure we’re educating the public,” Lucas said.

Emeritus has also developed a response plan for the employees who run the company’s roughly 500 facilities, telling them to comment on Frontline’s website and Facebook page and on ProPublica’s Facebook page. The company also instructed workers to encourage residents in Emeritus facilities to post positive comments on Yelp,, and Google “to offset the potential negative backlash created” by the investigation.

ProPublica and Frontline have obtained the strategy documents, which are posted here:

Email from Granger Cobb, Re: Frontline Broadcast

See original document >>

Emeritus Strategy Memo: Frontline Industry Response Materials

See original document >>

Emeritus Response Plan for Employees: Frontline Checklist for Eds

See original document >>

Email from President & CEO Granger Cobb:

As many of you are aware, Frontline will be airing a story on the assisted living industry on July 30. The title of the program is “Life and Death in Assisted Living.” As the largest assisted living provider, Emeritus is going to be featured in the story; however, this is an attack on our entire senior living industry. We believe Frontline is using the isolated incidents in this story to promote stricter and more nationalized regulation for the industry and to suggest that for-profit corporations and caring for seniors are somehow incompatible.

In the hopes that we present a united front, I have attached materials that include key industry messages developed with input from experts at ALFA and ASHA as well as our own team. To ensure the public remains confident about residing in or having their loved ones reside in assisted living, it is critical that we present a consistent message.

Please take a moment to read the attached, modify as you see fit, and share with your teams as appropriate. We are trying to balance the need to prepare staff, without drawing more attention to the story than it might otherwise garner on its own. As an industry, we care for one of the most fragile populations in society. We need to get our message across 2013 that assisted living fills a consumer driven niche by creating a place where seniors can retain their independence, dignity, and quality of life, while having access to care and assistance as needed. We know that residents in assisted living communities have a satisfaction rate of greater than 90 percent. This is the message we need to be telling 2013 that, as an industry, we care for more than 1 million seniors, providing them with the resources to lead purposeful, fulfilling lives and that we accomplish this with a very high degree of customer satisfaction.

Wrongful-Death-Lawyer-Nathan-HugheyI have received messages of support from many of you regarding this story, for which I am deeply appreciative. I am convinced that if we stand together, we can successfully counter the picture Frontline is trying to portray of our industry and tell the wonderful stories of compassion and nurturing our residents experience every single day.

If you have any questions or concerns about the Frontline story, I encourage you to contact me. Thanks for your support.


Emeritus Strategy Memo:

Frontline 2013 Assisted Living Response Materials

What we know

The Frontline Documentary that will be examining the assisted living industry will air on Tuesday, July 30 on PBS. In an average week, more than 4.6 million people watch Frontline.  Among the 285 PBS stations airing FRONTLINE, there are 459 total weekly plays. Programs are often picked up by NPR and other mass media public radio and TV programs. FRONTLINE’s audience tends to be affluent and well-educated. They are more likely to hold executive or professional employment positions than the general population.

For the last year, Frontline has been investigating a few unfortunate and tragic resident incidents that happened several years ago at four of our Emeritus communities, and by interviewing disgruntled former employees. They also sat in the courtroom during the trial in California that resulted in an adverse jury verdict.

Content predictions

Because of the direction of that research and additional information we’ve received from the reporters and producer, Emeritus and the Assisted Living industry as a whole will not be presented in a positive light.

Frontline is likely using these incidents to suggest tougher and more nationalized regulation for the entire industry.  We also believe their story will hit on these themes:

  • Ineffective regulation of Assisted Living at the state level
  • Inadequate disclosure / visibility for the public
  • Putting profits over people, as evidenced by:
    • Understaffing and insufficient training
    • Heavy focus on sales rather than quality
    • Inadequate investment in care in order to service debt, finance growth, and satisfy investors
    • Violating regulations by admitting residents improperly
    • Violating regulations by not transferring residents as required

Industry impact

We believe Emeritus will be heavily featured in this documentary; however, this broadcast could contribute to a loss of public confidence in (and the call for more stringent regulation of) the entire assisted living industry.

Response preparation

In preparation for any questions or concerns your communities may receive as a result of the story, the Emeritus Communications Team has prepared key messages related to these themes for you to customize and use in any media statements or talking points required for inquiries about the Frontline program. Our hope is that by communicating similar messages, the entire industry will put forth a united front by disseminating consistent information to all our constituents.

In addition, we’ve provided some tips and guidelines on handling media inquiries or responding to the story via online channels.

If you have any questions about the Frontline story or the Emeritus response plan, please don’t hesitate to contact Karen Lucas at 206-204-3038 or MaryBeth Dagg at 206-554-1908.

Handling Media Inquiries About the Broadcast

Please be aware that after this Frontline broadcast, your company and/or communities may get media inquiries to comment on the story or any of the issues being brought to light in the broadcast.  Make sure staff is prepared to handle these inquiries.

As experts and leaders in the senior living industry, it is important that your voice be heard. Please consider responding to any media requests.

In-Service Community Staff

At the community level, make sure staff, especially anyone who answers the phone, is in-serviced on your media protocols.  Here are some procedural tips for handling calls that may be useful to them:

1.  If the media calls, indicate that the Executive Director is with a resident and that they will get back to them before the reporter’s deadline or as soon as possible.

2.  Obtain the following information while they have the media on the phone:

  • Reporter’s name
  • Affiliation
  • Phone number and email address
  • Deadline (very important)
  • Any questions he/she needs answered

Write down the questions and tell them that the appropriate person will get back to them before their deadline.

Media Response Do’s and Don’ts

To help you for a media interview or response, whether it’s on paper, via phone or in front of a camera, here are some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind.

Media Response Do’s