Senior care directories -- so many, so confusing

Years ago when I was searching for a nursing home for my mother, I was amazed at how few websites there were that help in finding senior housing. That was then. Now there are oodles  -- almost impossible to keep straight and the business models may not be obvious, the value even less so. Today I will attempt to clarify types, offer a few examples, and attempt to explain the busines model. As with every other web-based initiative, consolidation and shakeout in this world is inevitable and appropriate.

Senior housing directory sites.  Directory sites have listings of facilities and services with attributes. They are funded on three models -- subscription fees from listing facilities, referral fees (payment per lead), and move-in commission. For example, RetirementHomes.com and Gilbert Guide (just acquired by Caring.com) charge annual fees to facilities for being listed in the directory.  "A Place for Mom" charges the facilities a 'move in' fee equal to some portion of the first month's rent.   SeniorsforLiving.com (not to be confused with SeniorLiving.com which is similar) charges a lead referral fee, based on filling in a interest referral form -- which is then forwarded to the listing housing organization as a lead. RetireNet, like Gilbert Guide and RetirementHomes, lists, offers phone numbers to contact, which implies a fixed subscription fee, but there is also an 'interest referral form' on Gilbert Guide -- which implies a lead-generation component as well.  'Featured' listings means there is an upgrade option. Content is critical to these sites -- forums, experts, articles on related topics surround the listings -- and paid advertising. Finally, sites can use the directory listings of other sites, rather than manage the data themselves or pay for partnership with more than one site to boost the number of leads.

CAVEATS:  There are too many of these sites (a Google search for 'senior housing directories' is eye-popping), the business relationships with facilities are not exposed, financially-strapped housing or service providers may be unsure who to list themselves with. But the big issue is that determining quality is up to the consumer to research -- and in the end, consumers are left to gather up a list, pick some criteria, and use visits and word of mouth to select. The hybrid nature of the business model (subscription, listing upgrades, referral fees, advertising) means data is plentiful, but not necessarly converted to really useful information.

WHAT I WOULD LIKE TO SEE ADDED:  Transparency of business model, identification of executive team and launch background, including any funders, integration with consumer ratings and/or quality inspection organization sites -- like Angie's List or state inspection results, which is feasible with nursing homes -- or build-out of a consumer-rating portion of the site. Exceptions include the SeniorList and Gilbert Guide which offers moderated user reviews -- not especially well-populated -- those who use these sites should take the extra step and write reviews. Maybe someday after the consolidation and shakeouts are complete, we'll have a directory of directories that rates the surviving organizations.

Up next, sorting out business models of caregiving portals.

Senior Care Home Listings

We have stated a new senior home listing project at: senior homes. This site features homes that have been reviewed and examined to the best extent possible by our staff. The Senior Home Locator's writers add informative and current topic articles on today's issues that affect seniors and their lifestyles.

The site is in its infancy but has plans to integrate many features in the near future such as user reviews of facilities, a discussion forum and links to governmental entities for checking senior housing credibility and any potential historic issues.

Seems like there is a new site or directory every day

I have been the editor of http://www.assisted-living-directory.com for about 7 years now, and back then, there were only a few senior sites out there - now there seems to be a new one every day.

Who can you trust?

I won't claim that our site is the biggest, or most comprehensive in terms of facilities listed, but we do try to develop a relationship with those facilities that we do list. We don't list facilities that we think may not have our user's best interests at heart.

What makes us unique, I think, is that we really seek out information from true experts in the field - via our interviews, tutorials, and original videos.

I think most people can decide for themselves within the first few seconds of being on a site whether they trust it or not. The content and information should speak for itself.

Thanks for the advice!

I, too, am a little late to this conversation - 2 tears! However, in starting a new senior living directory, these recommendations that you have listed two years ago are still relevant today. At http://www.sharpseniors.com, we are still in the design process (it's taking forever!), but we hope to incorporate many of the things you have mentioned. In this day and age of social media, it's ever-so-important to entice visitors to participate in your site. The problem is how? How to convince people to log-in to another site, give their information again, and participate? A lot of time you end up with one real comment and 600 spam comments!

Anyway...as I complete the design process, I will keep your suggestions in mind! Thank you!

Another Good Resource

Another good resource for your list of senior care directories is SeniorLiving.Org. The site includes reviews and tries to include detailed information about every possible senior living option, not just the paid inclusion sites. The site allow users to enter their home address and see surrounding senior care options sorted by distance from the base location. This can be very important for some seniors and caregivers that want their senior care close to home.

Interesting analysis

Laurie,

Sorry I’m a bit late to the party here! While business models of various senior directories are an important factor in determining bias and quality, I’d like to point out a few critical elements not mentioned in this article—data depth, freshness and credentialing. Most of the commenters of this article launched a directory to monetize traffic, so it’s not surprising to see them punt on questions like ‘who will keep the information up to date?’ and ‘who will ensure licensing compliance?’

MySeniorCare is a senior industry directory who, like many directories, offers a nationwide search of senior care providers covering the home health care, senior housing, and hospice industries. Unlike any other senior directory in the industry, we go the extra mile by confirming the liability insurance, state licensing documentation (where applicable), and principal background information of providers in our directory. We also provide refined search tools to put the control in families hands to find home health care providers who provide speech therapy services in zipcode 75248 and who accept long term care insurance as payment. We built this directory so that no other families would have to struggle as we did to find qualified senior care information and care provider options in their time of need. In tandem, we work with over 100 data sources including federal data bases and state licensing databases to ensure that all known senior care providers can be listed in our directory, instead of selling out our directory to those who pay us. Without a complete data set, a credentialing mechanism, and a commitment to care outcomes vs. money, you’d just be looking at another Yellow Pages.

-Marc

Interesting and Informative

Interesting and Informative post!!!

http://www.silvercensus.com/

There is a site called http://silvercensus.com, which I feel would be a perfect site to add to the list of directories.

Tyson
http://silvercensus.com

New service in Salina, KS

We have a new service in Salina/Saline County Kansas that strives to keep adults living in their homes as independently as possible. It is called Live At Home Solutions. Look at our website to learn about the provider network.

There are really two

There are really two discussions.  Ratings sites are not really included in this discussion, because they primarily make their money from advertising and affiliate programs for add-on services. They serve a pretty valuable service in peer-review once they get to critical mass.

With referral agencies, there are two problems. The for-free referral agencies only contract with certain folks, so you are not really getting the straight scoop when you look for a community.  For-pay sites can claim neutrality, but they rarely have the reach to cover all communities.  People don't like to buy insurance for things they don't think will happen to them, and you can't afford to cover the entire US for a small membership fee.  The consumer is kind of trapped in the middle. 

Referral companies really only exist because many senior care companies have yet to master generating leads for themselves.  Most still rely on traditional marketing, which is a shotgun blast for hopes that someone will read the piece when they need care.  Few spend the time to dominate their local search results and generate content required to get themselves found online.  If senior care companies were to invest a fraction of what they spend on referral fee into inbound and content marketing, their reliance on referral companies would go down and they would be far more profitable.

BTW - I don't know if any of you have noticed it, but APFM has engaged the services of an offshore spammer.  I get probably 5 emails a day from temporary domain names, which large clickable images.  That's a probably for the entire industry, as people will start to see many legitimate email marketing campaigns as spam.

Ryan Malone
SmartBug Media - http://www.smartbugmedia.com
Download the Elder Care Industry Marketing Report - http://www.smartbugmedia.com/elder-care-industry-marketing-report

The Internet should be seen as a tool, not to replace visits

Laurie, after our personal experience with three family members trying to find senior living options and not really knowing where to turn, my wife and I started seniorDECISION.com in September 2007.

The site is solely dedicated to consumer ratings and reviews in senior care and housing. Like several sites that have involved themselves in this discussion, we provide a great way for consumers to sort through all the provider choices available.

Our primary research indicates that families, especially if they are out of town, are often in a panic to find a senior provider solution. The goal of all of these tools should be to narrow down the choices to two or three for the purpose of a visit.

Consolidation is already taking place in this industry, but you are right, more and more of these type of companies are coming up each week. This is not a bad thing. At the end of the day, consumers will decide with their clicks who stays and who goes.

Trying to offer an alternative...

Laurie - as others have said - THANK YOU for addressing this important issue. When I was trying to help my father select a senior living facility 18 months ago, I was continually frustrated that I would find sites claiming to offer a comprehensive database, but then it would only pull up a handful of options around my hometown of Orlando, FL. I knew there had to be more choices. What I didn't realize till later was that I was only seeing facilities that had PAID to be listed. That's what lead me to create Florida Senior Living Advisor, which includes a comprehensive, searchable database of facilities in Florida. I've only been online about 5 months, I'm still definitely a work in progress, and right now this is simply a "labor of love" (ie - my only funding is the little I get from Adsense). I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to compete with the big guys, but as long as I continue to get a great response from visitors to my site, it will all be worth the effort. I hope that as we raise awareness of the need for transparency and disclosure in senior directories, ultimately we can create a better system for everyone.

The so called free internet referral services...

Free Web sites are often a gravy train for eldercare service providers
During these tough economic times, more and more stressed caregivers are gravitating to the web for help and guidance. With the plethora of "free" internet referral, placement, and on-line directory services for families in search of eldercare products and services such as homecare and assisted living, it is important to know exactly how these services make their money and how it might affect you and your loved one in the end.
Yes, they do provide their service to you at no charge; however the service providers that they refer you to pay them for their services. Since most employees of these "free" services work on a commission basis, it stands to reason that most will refer to providers who have agreed to pay the "free" agency a fee for your information rather than the provider that offers the services that best suit your loved one's needs.
Typically, these "free" service providers are only interested in assisting families that can afford to pay privately for eldercare and at best send a cursory response referring people to their local Area Office on Aging office if they are not "financially" qualified. The "free" services that assist families regardless of their ability to pay, sadly, are the exception, not the norm.
There are also a host of listing or directory services which are actually lead generation services for senior care providers. They ask questions directly related to your care needs, finances and geographical requirements and then in turn "broker" your information to providers that pay them for your contact details. One overwhelmed caregiver that completed one of the online questionnaires on the web site of a leading provider of qualified lead generation/listing services, received 16 telephone calls in a 30-minute time frame from a variety of eldercare service providers who had paid this listing "broker" for her information. Not only was she barraged by the calls, but also it happened at work since she included her work phone.
So, "buyers beware" ……. be sure to read the fine print on these web sites so you are prepared to deal with the "cost" of utilizing these so called "free" services.

The so called free internet referral services

I do think Patricia make a good point... As a matter of clarification. The Senior List (www.theseniorlist.com) does not take part in lead-gen activities. Anyone can browse our site, add consumer-opinions, and add a local eldercare providers (at no charge). Our model generates revenue from those providers that want additional exposure on our site beyond a basic listing (photos, description, and web link).

That's it... no strings...no conflict of interest.

cc
http://www.theseniorlist.com

Patricia Grace -- Aging with Grace

FYI. Patricia Grace runs

Aging with Grace

which includes a directory service.

Consolidation is occuring... plenty more to come

Laurie- Great topic- I see you've sparked some discussion from industry which is great. I think your post is spot on. We're already starting to see some consolidation in the industry, and I suspect it's just the tip of the iceberg. We'll continue to see great stories like the wonderful Gilbert Guide/Caring.com news of the past week... and we'll also see sites scuttled aka TeeBeeDee.com.

I suspect the growing number of online resources is related to a number of factors including the "sexiness" of the boomer/senior demographic, the relative ease of building a site today, and the lack of brand leaders in this space thus far. Those of us that can find the right mix to distinguish our brands will live on, and those of us that don't will be working on other projects (can you say fishing??? :)

Thanks for your great work-
Chris
The Senior List.com

Ratings, reviews, transparency, etc.

Interesting post, Laurie. When I started Gilbert Guide over 5 years ago, I had a difficult time even trying to find a directory and now we are inundated with them. I do tend to agree with Adam on this one.

Gilbert Guide was the first site that implemented a ratings system covering the whole spectrum of senior care (housing AND services). We actually began our business focusing on quality of care – sending experts out into the field to perform unbiased quality assessments of facilities and services and providing a quality seal for those that met or exceeded our strict standards and criteria.

But as far as professional reviews go, the consumers won’t pay for them so no one can provide them but the government. That’s it! It is no win situation. So we created a national directory that includes every provider in every category so people will know all of the options in their area. All we can do is provide the public information for the consumers to make the best decision for themselves, provide them the best decision making tools and give them the space to provide feedback to help other consumers along with way. We also promote other resources, e.g., GCMs, that are extremely helpful to assist them in making the best decisions. Our Care Planner always suggests GCMs and other professionals who are important resources in these decisions.

While we still believe that is the best model to serve consumers. We now only utilize the seal of approval for our service categories (non-medical homecare, gcm) based on the way they practice their business. We moderate user reviews from consumers. We receive numerous reviews daily, but there are so many thousands of facilities (and we just launched the directory in March of 2008) so I imagine saturation will take some time.

As far as transparency goes, like RetirementHomes.com, we have always disclosed our entire team to the public. Our address and contact information has been available from every page so people have been able to pick up the phone and talk to me at any time. And they have. It's how I learn about what our readers need. If we aren't serving people well, we aren't going to get people using the site. Our job is to continue getting people to find places and services that fit their needs at the time they need them. It is a necessity to figure out a business model so we can serve these people in the best way possible. I hope we can do a better and greater job at it so we can serve more. That will be a service worth continuing.

*There is one other review website called The Senior List out there that is dedicated solely to reviews.

**One other note, yesterday we announced that we joined forces with Caring.com! So we are part of their family now and looking forward to building out Gilbert Guide's directory to help even more people.

RetirementHomes.com Adam Fineman replies

Thank you for sharing this; most directories are simply that ..a directory (similar to the yellow pages or any other type of advertising media), our directive is to provide detailed  content and contact information on senior living options across the continuum of care.  

In regard to your final  point, we are not a regulatory body nor do we profess to be one. Our  team and their bios are  listed on our website, as well as the ways in which a property can advertise themselves.  Our business is to market properties and provide information to those who are looking online for senior living options.

Even if we were to vet the properties ourselves, who is to say that our set of criteria is the benchmark (who qualifies the qualifier?) and then who’s responsibility is it to ensure ongoing compliance?

I think that you have identified a much larger issue; the need for national standards across all types of senior living options (IL, AL, ALZ). Further to this issue, is that once these standards are established how can they then be  communicated to the mass (directories and senior portals may be a good outlet).

 

Until these standards are in place, I would recommend that any person do their absolute due diligence, prior to making a final decision as to which senior living option they choose to move in to.

 

Coudn't agree more with your point, but there is a solution!

L-

Your bringing to light the issue of the legacy senior care directory players and their inherent conflicts of interests in serving families was spot on (and incredibly timely). The fundamental problem is that, at the end of the day, it is the care provider that is the customer of these legacy businesses - not the families themselves. That is why there is such a reluctance to shine the light of transparency on the whole decision-making process.

I would encourage you to take a look at OurParents.com - we launched early this Summer with a goal of being the largest truly independent senior caregiver directory on the web, and I am happy to day, we are succeeding.

We combine care quality data from Medicare and other sources with user reviews, price information, and other useful information to paint a more complete picture about any given care provider. The whole experience is modeled after good travel search engines, where you can easily trade off price, location, quality and special needs to see which alternatives meet your aging loved one's unique situation.

Beyond the core search experience, we also provide simple-to-use tools like our Care Options Advisor, which eliminates all the confusing jargon that has crept into the senior care industry over the years, and allows a family to complete a simple 3 minute survey that then lays out the major senior care options, and how they each fit again the family's unique situation.

Finally, no Senior Care solution can ignore the huge challenge of paying for senior care. We have lots of useful information on the available government programs, and make it easy for a financially challenged family to narrow their search for Medicare/Medicaid eligible care facilities, should that make sense.

Most importantly, our service is absolutely free to consumers, and we don't charge either the consumer or the care provider for our matching service. That independence allows us the ability to show the good, the bad, and the ugly about any given provider. We think that's an important founding tenet of our business, and why we are seeing the uptake of OurParents.com by consumers.

Please give it a try, and tell us what you think - we'd love to make it even better.

Regards,
John McKinley
CEO & Founder
OurParents

if you dont get paid by the

if you dont get paid by the consumer or the provider then how will this be sustainable?

Glad you asked!

There are lots of other ways to provide value (PERS products, financial products, etc.) that allow us to monetize while still playing an independent matching service for the high-switching, highly emotionally charged, high-cost placement of an aging loved one in a senior care facility.

I hated what my mom went through - that's why I started OurParents. I am happy to say that we've helped lots of families since we got started in late May, and we've got lots more stuff coming soon to further help families in need of assistance. Stay tuned...

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