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July 9, 2008

Living and Working at Atria

-- by Dave Johnson

Part three of our unfolding story is about living and working at Atria Senior Living.

Go read Unassisted Living: Atria Residents, Families, and Workers Tell Their Stories -- Boztopia.com,

“Not long after she became a resident, mom and I began to notice many problems with her level of care. They didn’t have enough staff to do even the one check that was part of her care plan. The short staffing was apparent in other areas. Crucial doctor’s appointments were cancelled without notice because there wasn’t a driver. Showers were not routine. Even after constant requests, too few staff were available to keep up with the requests.”
We are people, not economic units, and there is a difference. This may be a difficult concept to grasp after three or four decades of constant corporate-funded "free market" propaganda. But people make decisions for higher reasons than just making or saving a buck or two. Most people, anyway.
“My mother has been a resident at Atria Marina Place for almost two years. She pays $4,825 for a one bedroom apartment. Our contract with Atria is supposed to include assistance with daily care and monitoring of medications, but my mother is still paying an additional $400 for care and medication administration. In the two years my mother has been at Atria, there’s been a huge turnover in staff. I think only about five of the original aides are sill there from when mom moved in. It also seems like there is never enough staff to watch out for the residents—at night there are two aides in the entire building.”
"Let the buyer beware" means that it is up to the purchaser of goods or services to take all precautions before handing over the money. But what happens when you are up against a giant company that utilizes the best marketing and sales that money can buy? If you are looking for a home for your elderly parents, and the comforting ads backed by the reputation of a national chain work to reassure you that everything is safe and your parents will be well cared for, how can you go wrong?

But then you sign the lease, and GOTCHA! The level of service is not what was promised. The rates start increasing and increasing. The care is substandard, the management is distant -- you can't even find out who actually owns the place. But one thing is for sure, they want that check every month. And your parent or parents are elderly -- another move would be just devastating, and now you are afraid.

“It’s time the state holds these facilities accountable. Before my mother moved in, Atria promised the best food and plenty of caregiving staff. We had high expectations, but I feel like we’ve been deceived every step of the way.”

What about the employees?

People who don't see themselves primarily as economic units can make decisions about jobs based on non-economic factors. Some people choose to be teachers, for example, because they want to help children learn and become better human beings. Others go into caring professions. Believe it or not, there are people who go into caring professions because they care about people.

“I was told that I would have to start supervising the night nursing staff. I do not have any clinical background experience, I did not hire the staff that I was supposed to supervise, this would take my focus away from the successful program I’d developed to take care of the residents. In addition, I was working full time nine to five. But I was told that I should stop by unannounced at any hour during the overnight shift to see how the night nursing staff was doing. I feel this was the result of Atria’s corporate mentality. From my perspective as an employee, it always seemed like Atria put profits before people.”

But even though there are people who don't measure the value of their existence according to how well they feed the economic machine -- and their efficiency at generating profits for the wealthy -- this does not mean they do not deserve respect and fair compensation for their work. The caregivers at Atria, at every level, deserve to be treated with respect and compensated fairly for their work.

But they're not. Of course.

Of course, this is all exactly what Atria and Lazard and Bruce Wasserstein are counting on. This is what the people and pension funds and others who park their money at Lazard are counting on. To them the seniors and the workers are just economic units, revenue streams and costs to cut, to be replaced if they don't perform efficiently.

What can we do about this? I'll start writing about this tomorrow.

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

Posted by Dave Johnson at July 9, 2008 9:08 AM

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