I read an article earlier this week about A Place for Mom (read A Place for Mom CEO: Company Will be Reinvented in Next Two Years).

A Place for Mom takes a lot of heat for its business practice of receiving referral fees from providers like assisted living facilities and home care agencies. While it advertises its services as free to the family, the company does not make it clear that the true client — the real customer — is the provider. The provider pays A Place for Mom when a family using A Place for Mom services chooses to use or hire that provider.

Over the years, I’ve heard lots of horror stories from both providers and families who have worked with A Place for Mom. Families moved their family member into one community with the help of A Place for Mom only to realize the right community couldn’t provide the needed care so the caree had to move again. Sometimes, families have had to move a caree because a facility would not accept Medicaid and the caree had run out of money. (Can you imagine the nightmare of trying to find a bed in a good facility that accepts Medicaid?)

If you reach out to A Place for Mom for help, you’ll be inundated with calls and email messages from providers, like nursing homes and assisted living facilities, that want your business. An owner of a home care agency told me yesterday that if A Place for Mom refers him business, he must pay a referral feel plus 8% of all invoices he bills that client he received through A Place for Mom.

Last year, a professional shared a story of what happened when she worked for a competitor to A Place for Mom. She shared that a sister called her for help in finding a facility for her mom. As the conversation continued, the sister mentioned that the brother had already called A Place for Mom for help. The professional indicated she could no longer help the sister, that she and her brother had to work exclusively with A Place for Mom. The professional wouldn’t work with the family because she wouldn’t get paid if she helped the family find an assisted living facility or nursing home — A Place for Mom would. (You’ll read about this “tension” over who gets paid in the article I link to above.)

In essence, family caregivers are the pawns.

Even worse, they are the pawns during an emotionally-draining time. Moving a family member into an assisted living facility or nursing home can be a devastating time. Hiring home care can be stressful and overwhelming. I honestly believe that companies like A Place for Mom stay in business simply because we’re too stressed out to figure out we’re part of a business transaction that does not serve us.

Family caregivers are the pawns that make companies like A Place for Mom money without receiving the customer service they deserve. Family caregivers aren’t the customers — the providers who pay the referral fee to A Place fo Mom are.

Even worse, the provider gets charged for receiving referrals. In essence, the referral costs the nursing home or home care agency money.

What if the family caregiver always remained the customer and instead of A Place for Mom receiving money for referrals, the family caregiver received discounts for being a valued customer? Why not shift the money from being an expense to being a discount? If a provider will spend money on a referral, why not change the dynamic so that the real customers (the family caregiver and the caree) benefit from a discount?

Let’s move out from being a middle man to being the driver to ensure we get what we need.

That’s what we’ll do when we launch our Caregiving Support Center (CSC) franchises next year. We’ll ensure the family caregiver remains the customer and receives discounts on services from vetted providers who support our Caregiving Co-op. In addition, the Co-op will manage a respite fund to ensure family caregivers can access money when they need to take a break.

When family caregivers will call the CSC for help, we’ll share a list of providers which offer discounts if they’d like to research the right one to hire on their own. If they’d like our help, they can hire us to ensure they find the right facility.

Family caregivers aren’t pawns that help others make money. Family caregivers are important customers that help providers stay in business.

(We’ll keep you posted when our first CSC opens next year in Chicago. If you’d like to learn more, join me in Chicago for our National Caregiving Conference, Nov. 7-10. I’ll share an overview of our CSC franchises on Sunday, Nov. 10, at 9 a.m. Register to join us at NCC19 and experience our work first-hand.)

About Denise

I began working with family caregivers in 1990 and launched Caregiving.com in 1996 to help and support them. Through my blog, I share words of comfort and offer coping strategies and tips. I also write opinion pieces about recent research, community programs and media coverage of caregiving issues. I've written several caregiving books, including "The Caregiving Years, Six Stages to a Meaningful Journey," "Take Comfort, Reflections of Hope for Caregivers" and "After Caregiving Ends, A Guide to Beginning Again." You can purchase my books and schedule a coaching call with me in our store.

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Thank you once again, Denise, as you provide leadership on behalf of caregivers.