My mother’s experience living in an Atria Senior Living facility is a cautionary tale for other Wisconsinites who are seeking housing and care for their elderly parents. When my father died in 2000, I moved my mother out of her apartment because she couldn’t do the stairs any longer without help. After a brief stay in a senior housing complex, it became obvious that she needed the care she would get in an assisted living facility.
She had long term care insurance, and I had heard good things about Atria from a nearby senior group. Atria looked like a great place. We took a 2 bedroom so I could stay there when I was in town. That was 2002.
I first knew something was wrong at Atria in an incident a few months after she had arrived. I was calling her everyday, and I called up one day and she sounded like she had a terrible cold. I called the Wellness office and I asked if they could check on her and increase the times every night when they would check on her. They said they would do so. I called the next day and she was still clearly ill. So I called Wellness again and asked the same. The same conversation happened on the third day.
The fourth day I called my mom and there was no answer.
My brother was nearby at the time, and I called him to ask that he go by the facility to check up on mom. My brother found the door to the apartment locked. A worker opened the door. My mom was on the floor, and there was blood all over the apartment. She had fallen after having a heart attack, hit her head, and she bled throughout the apartment as she crawled around on the floor. Her systems were very close to shutting down. The blood work determined that she had been crawling around the floor all night. She had never been checked on.
While my mother lived at Atria, I continued to observe many problems. My mother lived there until July 10, 2007, when she passed away.
A core group of workers works their tails off, but they can’t keep up with the needs of residents. Many residents came to breakfast late because there were not enough staff to get people ready in the morning. At night there were only one or two people on duty, and it was obvious residents were not being checked on.
My mother needed help because she could not reach her feet. This meant that she needed help in the shower, but she never got this help. She also wore Depends that she could not put on by herself. However, staff rarely had the time to help her. She once wore the same pair of Depends for six weeks;
On one occasion, my mother got dizzy in the bathroom and could not stand, but I couldn’t get a nurse to come check on her;
My mother developed bloody wounds on the back of her legs so bad that they turned black. She ended up in the hospital and had to see a wound care specialist;
Atria often made mistakes in my mother’s medication. She would consistently receive a double dose of her heart medication, while other meds were skipped entirely. I overheard workers complaining to each other about being asked to provide medication with so little training;
My mother developed a severe urinary tract infection, which went unnoticed for some time. She eventually got treatment only because a caregiver really pushed her supervisor to do so. While in the hospital for the UTI, they found colon cancer and an aneurism. During treatment for the cancer, my mother caught pneumonia and died;
During the time I was there, Atria Shaker had 9 or 10 different directors and 9 or 10 different nurses. The best nurse during that time left because she couldn’t get the funds she needed to properly care for residents;
I felt like the facility accepted residents that they couldn’t care for, and that needed more care than they could get in an assisted living facility;
I would have loved to get my mother out of Atria, but I couldn’t. If I was talking to someone considering Atria, I would tell them that placing your loved one in an Atria facility is placing them in a dangerous situation. I regret the day I brought my mother to Atria.
Earlier in September, I went to Madison to share my mother’s experience with the State of Wisconsin Investment Board, sometimes called SWIB, which is a large investor in the private equity fund that owns Atria. SWIB manages retirement funds for many Wisconsin workers. Ironically, I have a family member whose own pension is being squandered on this company that failed my mother so miserably. I felt it was important that SWIB and other investors understand exactly what happens at Atria facilities.
SWIB would not even allow me to speak to trustees at their monthly Board meeting. Other investors have encouraged Lazard to resolve of all the problems at Atria, and I just wanted to ask SWIB to do the same. Nobody wins when investors close their eyes to the suffering of people like my mother.
Sue MacArevey lives in Glendale, Wisconsin. She has become active in a national campaign, led by the Service Employees International Union, to improve returns to investors, quality of care, and working conditions at Atria Senior Living facilities nationwide