One day after Emeritus Senior Living, the nation’s largest for-profit assisted living chain, was the subject of a Frontline/ProPublica exposé, the company reached out to its employees, asking them to do damage control. Emeritus also made a classic mistake straight out of the Worst Company In America handbook when it accidentally copied ProPublica on the staff-only e-mail.
For those who haven’t had a chance to see the Frontline episode — and you should definitely watch it, especially you or a love one is considering assisted living — reporters investigated the largely unregulated assisted living industry, focusing mostly on Emeritus and several tragic incidents that have occurred at the company’s facilities around the country.
In the documentary, former Emeritus employees discuss the company’s alleged push to get warm, paying bodies into its assisted living facilities and to “Keep the Back Door Shut,” an actual name for Emeritus’s strategy for dealing with residents who want to leave [NOTE: see update below for Emeritus's dispute of this claim].
Early Wednesday morning, Karen Lucas, Emeritus’s VP of Product Development and Communications, sent out the following e-mail to the staff
… and to ProPublica, [NOTE: This e-mail was penned by Ms. Lucas, but Emeritus claims it was forwarded to ProPublica by a disgruntled employee; see update at bottom of post] which did all the reporting on the Frontline episode:
OK, everyone, it’s our turn now.
The broadcast has aired. Frontline has told their story. Now it’s time to tell ours. And folks, let’s tell it LOUDLY.
I am asking you, right now, to take five minutes, go online to one of these websites (or cut and paste to all of them, for that matter), and write just one sentence that speaks to your incredible community, your amazing staff, your wonderful residents and families that you care for, the job that you love and the difference that you make.
There’s a great quote: “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”
If you don’t think your one post will matter, it does. A LOT.
We have only to be proud of what we do. Now is OUR time to flood the internet with the sounds of OUR united voices. Shout out about the exceptional care your team delivers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, for your residents and their families who trust and believe in you.
Please. Do it now.
Frontline Facebook page
ProPublica Facebook page
Your work is love made visible. You are an example for us all.
While we have no problem with people who genuinely feel compelled to defend their employers, it’s problematic when a company has to nudge its employees into white-washing social media. Emeritus employees were probably very aware that the Frontline was airing, and a number of them surely watched the show, whether they agreed with it or not.
This e-mail is not telling employees, “please go online and tell everyone how you really feel about working at Emeritus,” which might lead to some honesty. It’s not even suggesting that employees rebut allegations and complaints aired on the Frontline episode.
Instead, it exhorts them to write about “your incredible community, your amazing staff, your wonderful residents and families that you care for, the job that you love and the difference that you make.”
In other words, Emeritus just wants its employees to paint a sunny picture to distract from the disturbing issues brought up during the Frontline episode.
Perhaps Emeritus is making its case for inclusion in next spring’s Worst Company In America tournament, where this sort of “rally the troops and get them to game the system” shenanigans have backfired on such WCIA legends as Comcast and Ticketmaster, both of which begged employees to sway the vote, only to have those same employees forward these requests straight to Consumerist.
UPDATE: A rep for Emeritus reached out to Consumerist this afternoon with issues the company has regarding this story.
Emeritus claims that this was not an accidental cc sent to ProPublica, but the work of a “disgruntled employee.” We wrongly stated that Emeritus VP Karen Lucas sent the e-mail to ProPublica, when she was the author of the original e-mail that was then forwarded to ProPublica. We have corrected the Karen Lucas reference above, but the ProPublica story still claims that it received the e-mail inadvertently.
Emeritus also takes issue with our statement that the assisted living industry is largely unregulated, by pointing out that it is in fact regulated in all states. We counterpoint that simply having regulations in all states does not make a company highly or well-regulated. It merely means there are rules; every industry has rules.
Emeritus claims that “Keep the Back Door Shut” is “not the name of an Emeritus strategy. It is a common term used throughout the industry to ensure our staff is delivering the kind of customer service that will ensure our residents want to stay with us for as long as possible.”
This may be the company’s official stance, but the lawsuit over the resident who died after she developed necrotic tissue and lesions during her three-month stay at an Emeritus facility turned up documents referring to “Keep the Back Door Shut” and thanking employees at area facilities for their focus on retaining residents as long as possible. In sworn testimony, a former employee said the term referred to a policy of keeping residents in the facility until they died.
Finally, the rep for Emeritus was not happy with how the e-mail to employees was characterized above.
“You’ll notice that the email did NOT tell employees to lie or to, in any way, present an inaccurate picture of Emeritus,” wrote the rep. “It asks employees to speak to their thoughts about Emeritus.”
We respond that, no the e-mail does not ask employees to “speak to their thoughts.” Instead, it specifically asks employees to “write just one sentence that speaks to your incredible community, your amazing staff, your wonderful residents and families that you care for, the job that you love and the difference that you make.”
Nowhere in that statement does Emeritus ask employees to be honest about their feelings regarding the company. It tacitly implies that those without nice things to say should not say anything at all.
“It does not, in any way, MANDATE that employees do this, or suggest they’re be punished for not doing so, are rewarded for doing so,” continues the rep. “There is absolutely nothing scandalous in this email, despite your efforts to make it seem otherwise.”
We agree that there is no overt threat or implication of reward in the e-mail. However, we believe that most employees — regardless of the company — would see a message from a senior company executive as a directive to go out of your way to make these comments online. As we mentioned in the above story, there are surely Emeritus employees who would have done this on their own without any nudging from above. Exhorting employees to go out and proactively make sunny statements about an under-fire company is not good management in our opinion; it’s softcore bullying.