Spring is arriving in the Central Valley, but the reality is that my mood has been more grey clouds than pink blossoms due to the health of my aunt. Watching a relative’s health decline is always painful all around. It has certainly had an impact on my extended family due to my aunt's struggle with dementia, which has become rapidly worse in recent months. She’s now in one of the thousands of elder care facilities across the country. Call them what you wish: skilled nursing, nursing homes, rehab centers, assisted living—this is a business that is only going to grow and become more lucrative as the American population ages. Many of these places are posh; many are marginal, if not god-awful. In the case of where my aunt is temporarily staying, her temporary hell is a rehab center on the border of Fresno and Clovis that is managed by Genesis HealthCare. This $5 billion company employs 95,000 people across 2,100 locations. The quality of care, along with the professionalism of the staff, not to mention the abysmal rooms and equipment, are appalling. I have taken a few pictures of the place, but honestly I cannot post them as I cannot even stand to look at them.

And why wouldn’t a place managed by a company like Genesis be awful? These companies run facilities that are little more than MediCare mills. They are guaranteed a steady stream of senior citizens who one after another enter their facilities’ doors, usually after a hospitalization and before they find a final solution to long-term care. For a company that says “we understand care, we practice compassion,” the reality is a place that has surfaces and furniture that has never been updated; serves food barely fit for human consumption; is ridden with disengaged employees who specialize in chewing gum and texting but little else; and does nothing for its patients to better their quality of life. Meanwhile they are bleeding American taxpayers dry while treating elder Americans as people only fit to be discarded.

Unfortunately, I see this as a long-term trend, as we live in a society that celebrates youth and denigrates aging, even though as a country we are getting older. Meanwhile, within the sustainability and corporate responsibility crowd, we are subjected to constant shoutouts to the millennial generation. We are told companies have to adjust to millennials’ demands for a balanced and “meaningful” career. Corporations are going after the millennials’ dollars while modifying their goods and services to appease this demographic. And we are subjected to propaganda about how it is the millennials who are at the forefront of social change.

All of this nonsense is an affront to the generations that have come before us and have lived through times many of us younger than the age of 50 can scarcely imagine. They have lived through the Great Depression, World War II, the constant threat of nuclear war, and the social and political upheaval of the 1960s. Many of them fought for racial and gender equality, or suffered through an era where their options were limited due to the social norms and discrimination of that time. And many elder Americans, in fact, were the first to become attuned to environmentalism, social justice and transparency in business and government.

To ensure that our parents and grandparents live out the rest of their lives in dignity, it is time to hold these companies, like Genesis, accountable. A cursory look through the list of the largest elder care companies in the U.S. reveals almost nothing about how they approach corporate social responsibility. They should be transparent about how much revenue they receive from the government, and how they spend that money. These companies should be training their staff regularly so they can do their jobs effectively, and also hold them accountable. The bottom line is that when these companies talk about their compassion, technology and respect they offer their patients and residents, they need to be able to prove it. In an era where we say businesses need to be sensitive about human rights, we need to start here at home by holding these businesses accountable for the revenues they generate as they are tasked with caring for our older loved ones.

Image credit: Leon Kaye

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he specializes in social media consulting and strategic communications. A journalist and writer since 2009, his work has appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Areas of interest include the <a Middle East, sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (Leon Kaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). Since 2013, he has spent much of his time in Abu Dhabi, UAE, working with Masdar, the emirate's renewable energy company. He lives in Fresno, California.