Opinion

A Place for Mom Is No Place for Mom

 

Concentrated elderly woman

By Tony Polk

Founder, Tony’s Rolodex

[Let me be clear: I am deeply troubled by the business practices of A Place for Mom (APFM), the world’s largest senior housing referral company. I believe APFM actually does a disservice to families engaged in the difficult process of finding the right place for aging parents. I started Tony’s Rolodex because I believe families are better served by using the free services of Senior Placement Advocates who personally represent them in the search for senior housing.  Here’s why:]

Finally, the time has come: Your mom needs to be in a place offering 24-7 care. She has fallen repeatedly. Or rushed to the hospital too frequently. Or she’s begun wandering away from home, lost in a world she cannot remember. It is time to find a place …

But where? Google “assisted living Phoenix” (or New York, Scottsdale, Miami, doesn’t matter). Among the very first ads to pop up will be for A Place for Mom, declaring that “Finding Assisted Living is Easy, Fast and Free.” Why not trust these good people? Theirs is a heartfelt name, A Place for Mom.  Former Today Show host Joan Lunden declares on their website, “You can trust A Place for Mom to help.”

Fill out their internet form with your contact info, and within minutes you will fast learn the nature of that help.

You will receive a phone call from an APFM “Senior Living Advisor” who will gather critical information: Can you afford long-term care? Where do you want your parent to be? What’s your parent’s physical condition?

Then APFM eblasts or faxes your contact info out to dozens of homes and facilities. Suddenly your phone and email erupt — with sales pitches, fancy brochures, invitations to visit. This continues for weeks.  Multiple phone calls. Repeated emails.

You are on your own, visiting homes, talking only with people

“Don’t make this important decision alone,” A Place for Mom declares in its promotional material.  In fact, using a Place for Mom is for the most part, exactly that.  APFM is a lead generation business whose driving interest is to place your parent in a facility that will pay them a commision, not whether it is the right facility. You could gather the same information and more about nearby senior care facilities in your area by Googling  Assisted Living and Memory Care facilities in your area.

But aren’t APFM’s Senior Living Advisors there to guide you to the home that is right for your mom or dad? Well, not exactly.  APFM Advisors are actually commissioned sales people, recruited for their telephone sales skills. No experience in senior care or senior placement is required.

Senior Living Advisors have quotas, sales targets and performance metrics.  The giant private equity firm Warburg Pincus owns a majority stake in APFM whose revenues are estimated at $50 million a year. The company employs very aggressive sales tactics.

Some advisors have up to 150 client families.  By policy and practice, they do not meet families face to face or accompany them on visits to homes. They work by phone throughout 3-4 state regions. They typically never visit the facilities they promote and have little or no knowledge of the management or staff or the mix of residents in the facilities.  

“Very, very high pressured sales position masked as “helping seniors” one employee recently told Glassdoor,  a website that allows employees to describe what is really happening in a company.

“The job of an advisor was misrepresented,” one former Advisor told Glassdoor. “I was nothing more than a phone salesperson. The leadership is constantly on your back about making people move. Why would I make an elderly person and their family do something they’re not ready to do?”

Notably many Senior Advisors were attracted to A Place for Mom with a genuine desire to help old folks and their families. But many leave after learning what the work is really about.

“I was compelled by the mission, but in practice you desperately stalk people via phone and try to “advise” them, or steer them to where you get commissions,” another former advisor told Glassdoor.com.

One adult care home which used A Place for Mom said when he called potential residents, families were often angry and hung up because they had been inundated with calls from facilities.

“It was like throwing a piece of meat to a pack of starving dogs,” the owner’s son said.

“The whole process,” a former APFM employee told Glassdoor, was one of “ambushing and hounding families, who inadvertently fell into the system looking for information.”

Concluded another:  “It’s all about the $$$, not the families.”

In my view, these practices are actually harmful to families because they occur at a particularly distressing time and leave families largely on their own to visit and assess facilities, and navigate a very complex senior care system.

Thankfully, Senior Placement Advocates offer a more preferable alternative.  They are independent consultants who provide a far more personal level of service. Here is how they differ from internet referral companies:

  • Most of their clients are referrals from local doctors, nurses, discharge planners and other local senior care professionals who know the level of service they provide.
  • They constantly visit facilities and review state regulator reports, trying to find the few they feel comfortable recommending for your parent. Most focus on particular neighborhoods so they can truly know the facilities in their area.
  • They meet face to face meetings to assess the needs and wants of the family and prospective resident. There are long, detailed discussions about the homes available and costs and quality of service at each.
  • They take the family on visits to the homes and help the family weigh the pros and cons of each.  Often the accompany families on multiple visits. When the family has focused on one home, the advocate helps negotiate rates and terms.
  • Finally the advocate helps the family coordinate the move-in and usually conducts a visit after the move to make sure the placement was successful.

Internet referral sites and Senior Placement Advocates offer their services free to families and are paid fees from the facilities they place residents in. The question is, do you want to use the service of professionals who actually know your family and the facilities they refer you to? Or do you want to become a lead in an internet system that bombards you with sales calls and high pressure sales tactics from telephone sales people?

APFM is not alone in this telephone based sales model. Caring.com, a subsidiary of the publicly-traded BankRate (RATE), AgingCare.com, SeniorAdvisor.com as well as APFM subsidaries Assistedliving.com and Alzheimerslocator.com — all follow this basic busines model. Agingcare.com heavily promotes help in finding senior living options and when you fill out a form on its website, you are immediately contacted by A Place for Mom.

A Place for Mom reportedly plans to expand internationally.

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