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The Deadly Cost of Assisted Living?


A recent investigative report published by the Miami Herald and NPR has chronicled a series of deaths suffered by some of the residents of Florida’s assisted living facilities – deaths the report alleges were likely due to negligence and could have been avoided. There were cases of over-medication and under-medication, drownings (in bathtubs and lakes), even an alligator attack. As for consequences for the facilities or caretakers, there were few, the report says.

What makes this particularly troubling, the report concludes, is that Florida, with its high proportion of seniors and roughly 3,000 assisted living facilities, is “a case study for how the country protects some of its most vulnerable citizens.” Furthermore, it appears that the situation in Florida isn’t unique. While there are no national data on elder abuse, several states claim that cases have “increased steadily” in the past few years, according to the U.S. government’s March 2011 “Elder Justice” report. In Virginia, for example, elder abuse reports jumped 27% to more than 17,000 from 2008 to 2010.

Meanwhile, the cost of assisted living and nursing care is rising.  Assisted living rates jumped 5.2% to an average of $37,572 per year from 2010 to 2011; over the same time frame the cost of a private room in a nursing home jumped 4.6% to $83,585 per year, according to the MetLife Mature Market Institute.  At the high end, the costs can be more than double the averages. In Washington D.C., the most expensive state for assisted living care, the average cost was $62,772 in 2010; in Alaska, the most expensive state for nursing care, the average cost was $250,755 per year for a private room.

In effect: you may be getting worse care, and paying more for it.

Readers, have you found an assisted or nursing care facility for someone in your family? And are you satisfied with the care?


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    • The cost of Asst. Living is dependent on local real estate and economy. For instance, in Orange County, CA a typical single family home is valued between $600,000 to $1,000,000….You could not rent an apartment and receive all of the services provided by Asst. Living for less than $3,000 to $5,000 per month. Most seniors can afford this cost as they have lived within their means, have not over extended credit and usually own their homes free and clear. The cost of doing business is extremely expensive in a litigious society….I think seniors do ok today…..the real problems will be faced by the baby boomer generation. As for quality and safety. Most Asst. Living communities live up to expectations. Small board and care communities may not be as consistent, but still perform. It is my experience in California, that we are extremely fortunate to have great quality of care and are monitored frequently by the State of California and our Ombudsman services.

    • Hedghog is right. America is a terrible place to die. I am grateful for the greatest gift that my father gave me. He died quickly and in one day. It is the most horrible thing I can say, but that’s what its boiled down. How quickly can you die, without burdening the state or your family. That being the case I don’t see any other alternative but ending my life before I am overcome by dementia or debilitation. Sad but true.

    • America is a great place to live, but a horrible place to die.

    • Washington state licenses qualified private homes that serve 4 to 6 assisted living patients. They have to meet high standards and are inspected periodically. My mother had dementia and we found a place for her in one of these homes. She had excellent care during the three years she lived there. You could pop in any time and the place would be clean, with no unpleasant odors. It was also reasonably priced. Her social security and small retirement income covered most of the costs.

    • Yes, I am being sarcastic. Accurate, but sarcastic.

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  • Encore examines the changing nature of retirement, from new rules and guidelines for financial security to the shifting identities and priorities of today’s retirees. The blog also explores news that affects retirement, from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network and around the web. Lead bloggers are reporter Catey Hill and senior editor Jeremy Olshan. Other contributors include The Wall Street Journal’s retirement columnists Glenn Ruffenach and Anne Tergesen; the Director for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell; and the Director of Research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Michael Kitces, CFP.