Back To The Vulnerable Elderly

Atria Senior Living and Lazard — I’ve been writing about bigger-picture issues but today I’d like to go back where this started, to the most vulnerable people – the elderly. The residents at the Atria Senior Living facilities are the direct victims of a big company buying up a number of senior living chains, combining them into one big chain and then financializing this as an investment, because everyone knows that the Boomers are getting old so this is a great way to get in on the ground floor of a growing business.
But viewing elderly people as a business and good investment is the wrong way to approach this. It’s backwards. It should be, let’s take care of elderly people, and do a good job, and provide a good service, and be fairly compensated for our efforts. That is how a business should be run. The goal is doing a great job with the product or service provided, not makingthe quick buck by cutting back services and squeezing employees. This si the new American way of looking at business, but it is just wrong.
Starting this series, I wrote,

To set the stage, think about yourself getting old, or about your parents or grandparents. Think about reaching a point where you just can’t quite get by living on your own at home anymore. So at some point you decide you have to move into a senior facility. What about if you need assisted-living facilities — a place with people to help you take a shower and things like that. And finally, think about when you might need “memory care.” (This is a the name for a special facility for people with Alzheimer’s disease.)
These are people who are in no condition to fight battles. Vulnerable is the word here. Extremely vulnerable. You would think people in this phase of their live are people who our society would give special care, special attention, special protections. You would think that our society would join together to take care of them, protect them, shelter them, fight for them.
But not in today’s America. You see, there is one more fact about these people: the people who move into a senior facility do so because they can afford to. These places are not cheap. In today’s America the people without money are on their own without care, but if you have some money you have at least some value — to a certain kind of company.
OK, we have the perfect combination here. We have elderly, frail, sick, vulnerable, and they have some money. They are a captive audience, too, because people in this situation are not people who can pack up and move somewhere else. Senior care is a big business. You’re talking about chains with hundreds of facilities each with dozens or even hundreds of living units you’re talking REAL money. So in today’s economy you’re talking about a perfect target for exploitation. This week I am going to explore what it means to be vulnerable. But I think you can already guess where this is going.

In Reverse Robin Hood: Stealing From The Poor To Give To The Rich : Boztopia.com, Martin notes,

What’s happening at Atria–the gouging of seniors’ meager disposable income to ensure profit margins are met, even while services and benefits are cut and rents are increased dramatically–is an extreme, but all-too-real example of what’s happening all over the globe…the systematic transfer of wealth and the power to create wealth from the larger mass of the human community to a select class of uber-wealthy players at the top of the social scale. It’s worth looking at the issue in a larger context, if only to reiterate what I think most of us already know…that we’re being robbed, cheated, gouged, and nickel-and-dimed to death to make others rich.

To change this, to bring America back to sound business practices, where you provide a good product or service, and then you are fairly compensated, will be a long effort. We have to get peoplo eback out of the quick buck mentality. We have to find ways to prevent the Bruce Wassersteins and the Lazards and the Atrias from gaming the system to their own advantage. (Like how Lazard claims to be a “Bermuda-based” company when they are not.)
Atria could increase its services to the residents, and pay fair wages and benefits to their workers instead of making the seniors into a product they package up for their investors. Lazard could ask its investors to expect a fair return on their investment instead of hoping to cash in big on the next big trend. But then, this would be a very different country for that to happen.
This post was sponsored in part by The Campaign To Improve Assisted Living.

Why Do We Allow This System?

I have been writing about the Campaign to Improve Assisted Living — please visit their website.
I’d like to talk about the larger picture. The other day I asked Who Is the Corporation

So here is the thing. When you talk about a corporation doing something, who are you talking about? In reality you are talking about a few PEOPLE, not some anonymous corporation, PEOPLE. And when you talk about the people of a corporation you are not talking about Bob in Sales or Mary in Accounts Receivable. They are not the people who make decisions — they aren’t even asked. They are told from the top how it is going to be. When you talj about a corporation doing or saying something you are really talking about A FEW PEOPLE and the things these people do and say are not for “the company” they are necessarily for THEMSELVES. Corporations do not have voices or thoughts or ideas, a few people who have control of the resources of the corporation do, and always, always act for their OWN gain.

Today let’s take a look at Why?
Here we have a country that allows vulnerable elderly people to be treated as a product to be harvested and workers to be treated as economic units or annoying costs to be replaced if they are not efficient enough. The average worker faces longer working hours for less pay and fewer benefits each year.
How did we get here? When did we decide to have a system like this? Did we ever decide?
Who benefits from this system? In the case of Atria Senior Living Bruce Wasserstein benefits. Other executives at Atria and Lazard benefit. Does anyone else? Why do we allow it?
We used to have kings and feudal lords who “owned” almost everything and told everyone else what to do. People rose up, battles were fought and eventually a compromise was reached. England still has a Queen!
In America workers faced brutal conditions because a few powerful wealthy people controlled the economy and the mines and the mills and the factories. Over time unions formed and fought this and a compromise of sorts was eventually reached. And over time those unions have been eroded and things have been slipping backwards. That is a gross simplification, but here we are.
When do We, the People start to decide what kind of economy we want? In Europe and much of the rest of the world people get five weeks vacation, health care, child care, and rights. That is because the people there understand that they are in an ongoing fight between the people and the powerful, and they still have strong unions. In America a very few get fabulously wealthy, supported by the work the rest of us — here and in the outsourcing countries — do.
When will We, the People decide that WE want a better system for US? I suggest taking a look at the SEUI’s Accountability Project. This campaign is intended to help all of us, not just their own membership. It’s a start. But in your own actions and thoughts, start demanding more. Start demanding that the few ultra-wealthy and the corporations butt out of our system. We are We, the People and We are supposed to be in charge here.
This post was sponsored in part by The Campaign To Improve Assisted Living.

Who Is the Corporation?

I have been writing about Atria Senior Living, owned by a “Lazard-affiliate.” Atria is big a chain of facilities where elderly people live. It offers assisted living care and “memory care”(which means Alzheimer’s care facilities). Lazard is a big “Bermuda-based” (HA!) Wall Street “buyout firm.”
Here’s the deal. Big Wall Street firm Lazard buys a few senior-care facility chains and combines them into Atria. The “boomers” are aging and will need care so this is the Next Big Thing investment. Pension funds and others hand over to Lazard millions for this “investment,” expecting Lazard to provide a rich return. This means the seniors (well, their incomes, actually) are the PRODUCT, not the customer here. The seniors are an annoyance, inefficient, demanding, in the way of maximizing revenue. Employees are even worse, of course, because they expect to get paid, and want to go home sometimes, and are generally in the way of the supreme goal of maximizing revenue.
And to complicate things Lazard has set up an extremely convoluted system of corporations “affiliated with” other corporations, some based in Bermuda (HA!) and none particularly traceable to being the actual owners of Atria. No one can really find who ultimately can be held accountable for the hundreds of violations of regulations that Atria commits.
So here is the thing. When you talk about a corporation doing something, who are you talking about? In reality you are talking about a few PEOPLE, not some anonymous corporation, PEOPLE. And when you talk about the people of a corporation you are not talking about Bob in Sales or Mary in Accounts Receivable. They are not the people who make decisions — they aren’t even asked. They are told from the top how it is going to be. When you talj about a corporation doing or saying something you are really talking about A FEW PEOPLE and the things these people do and say are not for “the company” they are necessarily for THEMSELVES. Corporations do not have voices or thoughts or ideas, a few people who have control of the resources of the corporation do, and always, always act for their OWN gain.
So who are we talking about today? Bruce Wasserstein is the guy at the top of this particular corporate food chain, reeling in the BIG bucks, and the residents of Atria are working to hold him accountable.
Saturday’s New York Daily News had a story about this: Care-home grannies blast billionaire whose firm put their rents through roof

. . . a sneaker-clad foursome of seniors – representing numerous residents they say are too scared to come forward – recently tried to confront the ultrawealthy investment banker at his Rockefeller Center office.
. . . In a letter from the residents’ board they tried to hand-deliver to Wasserstein, the women noted the stark disparity between his wealth and their fixed incomes.
“While residents at Atria struggle to manage rate increases … the compensation packages for those at Lazard are in the millions.”
Wasserstein lives in a duplex that combines the 10th and 11th stories of a posh Fifth Ave. building on the upper East Side. He also owns a Paris pied-à-terre, a sprawling East Hampton estate next door to Jerry Seinfeld and a Santa Barbara, Calif., spread worth $8.3million.
Lazard’s board paid Wasserstein, who is worth at least $2 billion, more than $41million in salary and bonuses last year.
Atria is owned by a fund controlled by Lazard, although Lazard claims Wasserstein has no control over Atria’s operations.

“Lazard” claims that Lazard has no control over Atria, which is owned and operated by Lazard. Meanwhile those elderly people are squeezed by writing ever-greater checks, and the employees have to get squeezed and squeezed. Everyone is squeezed, Wasserstein gets ever-richer, and NO ONE can be held accountable.
Nice system we got going here, huh? Works for Wasserstein. But not for the rest of us.
This post was sponsored in part by The Campaign To Improve Assisted Living.

Living and Working at Atria

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.

Extreme Wealth Just Isn’t Enough

Part One of the unfolding story was about the vulnerability of the elderly — perfect targets for exploitation.
In Part One the Bermuda-based (HA!) “buyout” firm Lazard, LLC. set up Atria Senior Living which an “affiliated entity” owns.

Atria houses seniors, and collects a monthly fee, which ends up in Lazard’s (affiliated) bottom line. … Atria has been reducing services, raising rates, cutting wages, and generally treating the residents and employees like money trees that exist to be squeezed.

Part Two is about extreme wealth.
At Atria the seniors are captive, the services are cut, the rates are increased and the employees paid as low as possible. You see, there’s always a waiting list of elderly people who need “memory care”‘ or assistance taking showers. These are the lucky duckies who have some money to pay to live at a place like Atria; there are few choices and if you don’t have the money in America you are on your own. (Imagine being too old to even be able to shower by yourself but not have enough money to even pay an Atria. Welcome to today’s “free market” America.)
The money is squeezed in ever greater amounts. And at the top of this food chain is a guy: Bruce Wasserstein. It seems he just has to have more and more and more. Already extremely wealthy, it just isn’t enough. It’s never enough and it seems the more you get the more you need. You need it bad enough to squeeze more and more money out of old people too frail to even shower without help. You need to so bad that you keep the wages of people as low as you can and you do everything in your power to keep them from forming a union. You need that money. You need that money. You need that money. And you do what you have to do to get even more.
Bruce Wasserstein, is Chairman and CEO of Lazard. Wasserstein was paid more than $42 million for the year 2007, a year when Lazard’s stock lost more than 14% of its value. He then signed a new five-year contract with Lazard worth more than $100 (not counting bonuses). So far this year their stock has dropped almost 10%.
Wasserstein and Lazard just have to have more and more. Elderly people who can’t take care of themselves and low-wage workers are weak and vulnerable. Does this mean that we as a community of people join together and protect them? No, this makes them an easy target in today’s America, so Wasserstein and Lazard have stepped in to harvest this vulnerability. They just have to have more. Already extremely wealthy, they just have to have more.
See the Brave New Films video, Gouging Grandma: Billionaire Bruce Wasserstein:

Bruce Wasserstein is the chairman and chief executive officer of Lazard, Ltd. and Lazard Group. He buys companies, cuts costs, and drives up their value—often for a quick profit at the expense of customers, consumers and workers. He is worth more than $2 billion.


Wasserstein and Lazard need to get their greed under control, take responsibility for their own actions and their own greed, stop cutting services and raising rates at Atria, and allow the employees to unionize.
This post was sponsored in part by The Campaign To Improve Assisted Living.