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Senior assisted-living facility adding monitors to rooms causing commotion

By Anthony Westbury
Saturday, June 26, 2010

It may be called QuietCare, but a new monitoring system at an assisted living facility is causing a ruckus that’s anything but quiet.

Lake Park Forest in Fort Pierce is an upscale community for senior citizens who are largely able to care of themselves. It’s almost like a resort: residents get a studio apartment and three meals a day; there are walking trails, a heated pool, exercise programs, housekeeping services and so on.

Fees for room and board typically range between $2,400 and $3,000 a month.

It’s the decision by parent company, Senior Lifestyles Corporation of Chicago, to add monitors in rooms and it’s what they intend to charge that’s causing the commotion.
The G.E. QuietCare system uses the latest in motion detection and infrared technologies to monitor resident behaviors.

While that might smack of Big Brother, mostly it’s fairly benign. The system records how many times a resident uses the bathroom at night, what time they get out of bed in the morning and other variables, to establish a baseline behavior profile for each resident.

Should a resident diverge from that “normal” behavior — like suddenly making seven bathroom trips a night — it might indicate a urinary tract infection, according to Tom Ostrom, senior vice president at Senior Lifestyles Corp. The system has therapeutic value, he said.

“Studies indicate it increases length of stay (in assisted living facilities) by 58 percent. The number of falls in one study dropped by more than 50 percent,” he said.

However, it’s not so much the intrusion into private lives that has residents charged up, it’s the extra charges of $200 a month and having no choice in the matter.

Nina Snellgrove, 90, has lived at Lake Forest five and a half years.

“Until they went crazy,” she said she has enjoyed her stay there. She organized a petition against QuietCare and all but one resident signed it.

“We’re paying quite a lot anyway. With an extra $200, I’ll be paying $2,600 a month. We were told we had no choice,” she said.

Chris Fogal, a partner with the accounting firm of Proctor, Crook, Crowder and Fogal in Fort Pierce, has his mother, Ida, at Lake Forest Park.

“I find this whole thing unbelievable,” Fogal said. “Many of the residents are on fixed incomes and essentially they have no one locally to represent them in this. To hit them with another $200 a month for something they’re supposed to be doing anyway is unbelievable. I’m absolutely flabbergasted by this.”

His outrage is shared by advocate for the elderly, Ombudsman Priscilla Stuber. She’s a volunteer who works under the authority of the Florida Department of Elderly Affairs.

Stuber is also concerned about the lack of choice, at how this “improvement” is being rammed down residents’ throats. She’s suggested the company charges only those residents who actually want the service, but they don’t seem to want to do that.

It seems to Stuber, and I agree, that installing QuietCare might be as much for promotional and marketing reasons as it is for sound medical ones.

Having the system might also be intended to boost Lake Park Forest’s bottom line. The system will generate $6.50 a day in new charges, around $75,000 a year in profits over what G.E. officials say it typically costs an assisted living facility to operate, which is around $3 a day. Senior Lifestyles Corp. operates 52 similar communities across the country.

Chris Fogal agrees it’s the money.

“This is elderly abuse in my opinion,” he said. “They’re cutting costs and adding to their bottom line. It’s an annuity stream, pure and simple.”

He’s considering taking legal action. I’ll keep you posted.

Anthony Westbury is a columnist for Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers. This column reflects his opinion. For more on St.Lucie County topics, follow his blog at tcpalm.com/westbury. Contact him at (772) 409-1320 or anthony.westbury@scripps.com.