A Place for Mom is No Place for Mom

Recently, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging Chair Bob Casey, D-Pa., sent a letter to A Place for Mom (APFM), a senior referral service which dominates the market for such services, requesting information on its business practices. The inquiry is long overdue, as A Place for Mom has long been abusing its dominant position in the industry overcharging, failing to maintain quality control, and practicing deceitful business practices.

As a for-profit venture established by former Microsoft executive John Temple, the company’s business model derives more from venture capitalism rather than senior care. Although seniors don’t pay for this service, the resident communities must pay APFM in order to be considered for a referral, and that cost ultimately gets passed back to residents.

APFM asks visitors to their website to provide their contact information and some other personal data in order to “find out more,” without being explicitly informed that doing so prohibits them from working with anyone else on being placed at any community where APFM sends a referral.

Once a person provides that information, APFM sends that information–which it calls a “referral”– to dozens of local senior communities, effectively establishing exclusive rights on each client-community pair in a back door fashion. The client is restricted to only work with APFM and no other service provider. The only way a community can avoid being locked in by APFM is reject the referral “promptly.” On the other hand, as APFM only works with its member communities, explicitly exclude half of the living options.

APFM dominates the placement marketplace, with contracts with approximately half of the senior communities in the U.S. Its size and ability to use SEO tools to make sure any search prominently features its website means that it can be costly for any senior residence community to refuse to work with it. On the other hand, the AFPM exclusivity contract makes it difficult for a community to work with other placement agencies–and impossible to do so for anyone who gave them their contact information.

APFM does little or no quality control on its local placement agents, who are commission-only independent contractors, and it has no certification requirements or quality standards. These contractors often do not even meet with the client nor provide in-depth information on the communities they represent; rather, between the internet and phone they simply fill orders.

APFM also does little or no quality control on the communities in which it places seniors, and on its website it declares that “We exercise no independent judgment as to the quality of, nor do we recommend or endorse, any Participating Community.”  Often, APFM independent contractors often have little or no knowledge of the communities that they place the elderly having never visited there.  Some of the “best” locations APFM proudly touts have been cited for substandard care.

What can you do if you need help with this big decision and want to avoid being duped?  First, find a local placement professional who requires no contract or is willing to meet and discuss terms before establishing a formal relationship. Second, find a knowledgeable placement professional who knows your needs and the capabilities of the communities that might become your home and who follows up with the client after placement to assure a good match. Third, find a placement professional who will represent all communities and work with clients of all incomes. Finally, beware of agreeing to terms in exchange for information; in an effort to find information, you may be signing away your freedom to work with whom you choose.

APFM fools seniors into exclusive contracts, limiting their housing choices and forcing them to work with internet-and-phone based sales people posing as placement professionals. These business practices should be stopped.