It’s a common challenge for people in their early fifties, especially women: one or both of their parents have reached a point where they can’t or shouldn’t live on their own anymore, and neither the woman nor her siblings, if she has any, has the time, expertise, or general wherewithal to determine the best options.
Determining those options is easier with A Place for Mom, a senior living referral service founded in 2000. Senior VP and general counsel Camille Cleveland counts herself as part of that aforementioned demographic, which helps her stay keenly aware of the service’s purpose. “It’s our mission to enhance the goals of senior living,” she says. “Sometimes people think it’s best to keep their parents at home, but the rates of depression and malnutrition are alarming. That’s the kind of thing these communities can help with.”
The Seattle-based organization connects clients with senior living advisers in their area, a service which it can offer nationwide. The adviser interviews the client to get a sense of what their parents need in terms of assistance, as well as interests, activities, price range, and so on. From that information, the adviser creates a list of up to a half dozen options in the region requested. If a tour of a location is possible, the adviser’s line that up, too. “A Place for Mom doesn’t make recommendations; we just present options,” Cleveland explains. “The advisers know what’s out there, so they can identify options for our clientele pretty quickly.”
“Not only are we protecting seniors, but we’re enabling them to reach their next phase: a safe, comfortable, affordable place.”
Perhaps most noteworthy is the fact that those options are provided free of charge; A Place for Mom gets paid a fee by facilities that are chosen as a result of its referrals and says facilities are forbidden by law from charging the clients overage to cover that fee. Cleveland feels the free-of-charge aspect of this service is a vital distinction. “We’re not selling anything. We’re providing information, and that’s a good thing,” she says. “It’s important to explain our model and explain why it really is free to families. They go together. We’re not at odds. Not only are we protecting seniors, but we’re enabling them to reach their next phase: a safe, comfortable, affordable place.”
As general counsel, Cleveland oversees what she says are the pillars of responsibility for most any general counsel: contracts, intellectual property, employee issues, and real estate. But industry-specific compliance is a key distinction for her work with A Place for Mom.
The amount and variance of laws to know and cover from state to state can be staggering to say the least of the twenty thousand senior living communities that are expected to maintain a certain standard of excellence in the company’s system. Her small legal team regularly tracks the latter. “It’s something we do that I’m sure no other referral agency does,” she says. However, the bigger issues tend to require a more nuanced management.
“Compliance with regulatory issues, from our perspective, is generally not around the community issues but around privacy policies,” Cleveland says. “Making sure all our information on the Internet is transparent is an example.”
With an increased focus on compliance and legislative action in the past decade, government affairs play a bigger role than ever in Cleveland’s workload. “Any legislation involving seniors tends to be at the state level,” she says. “A lot of times the people advocating legislation represent other businesses. It’s important for us to reach out to legislators and explain what our business model is.”
In doing so, she says, they bring to the conversation issues such as background checks and matters of transparency—things A Place for Mom practices voluntarily. “There are lots of things we do that we’d love to see required of other agencies,” Cleveland says. “Of the legislators I have met, every one has had great intentions. But the goal is to benefit seniors and to strengthen and protect families. And I think it needs to be clear that organizations like A Place for Mom are already benefiting the seniors.”
Considering the “silver tsunami” swell of aging baby boomers and the subsequent need to connect them with the best-matched assisted living facilities, Cleveland sees nothing but continued growth ahead for A Place for Mom. There’s a lot of room for growth, especially with hospitals where senior living advisers can provide enormous peace of mind to families as the changing needs for their aging loved one become evident.
It’s growth that she’s very proud to be a part of. “I’ve enjoyed working at every company I’ve worked for, but whether it was selling tickets, food, or cars, I never had the sense we were necessarily making the world a better place,” Cleveland says. “But I know we are here.” AHL