Bullying in senior housing: Is it a real problem?
8/14/2014 11:27:05 AM

By Paul R. Votto, National Director of Housing Programs

Last Fall I was leading our new Certified Manager of Senior Housing® program with a group from the Good Samaritan Society in Sioux Falls, South Dakota when the concept of "bullying" in senior communities came up. Good Sam's, as many fondly and informally call the organization, operates several senior communities, both affordable and market-rate, across the United States. Consequently, the participants represented a cross-section of housing types and locations. I was, frankly, surprised at how many of them used the term "bullying" and described it as a problem.

Of course, I was familiar with the concept of bullying; it's hard not to be, given the attention it has gotten in the media lately. But, except for the widely publicized recent incident involving a pro football player in Miami, virtually all of the discussion and stories have centered on children and teens. Even though I have managed lots of senior housing over the years, Sioux Falls was the first time I heard the term "bullying" applied to seniors.  I was so fascinated by the topic that we spent nearly forty-five minutes discussing it during the training program and talking about what managers can do to address the problem.

Since Sioux Falls, I've talked with others who manage senior housing and to a one they have agreed that, whether it's called bullying or not, the phenomenon can be a very real problem. Clearly the behavior of one senior resident pushing around or dominating one or more other residents wasn’t new to me. But thinking of it in the context of "bullying" added another perspective on the problem.  It also pushed me to distinguish between the "difficult resident" who simply is a disruptive force and the one who focuses his or her aggression and negative behavior on a select few.

The group in Sioux Falls speculated that this behavior was more likely to occur in affordable housing than "high-end" senior communities. In other words, there was a suspicion that bullying was more common as you moved down the income ladder. I don't know whether that is true or not, but getting an answer to that question, and others, seem to be important to our understanding of this problem and to the guidance we give managers in the future on how to deal with it.

In Sioux Falls we developed a "laundry list" of methods managers can use to attempt to address the problem. It was just one small step but it inspired me to put this high on NCHM's agenda for future attention. Since then, my colleague, Mark Alper, and I have spent considerable time researching and discussing the problem. This month we will conduct a webinar together to share some of what we have learned and what we think it means for the operation of senior housing communities. Mark's expertise in federal regulations and occupancy matters will certainly be valuable to the discussion. If you manage senior housing we hope you will join us for this very interesting and important topic.

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