Are So-Called “Free” Elder Care Referral Agencies Really Free?

By Jack Halpern, CEO, My Elder


My Elder discusses how these “free” elder care referral agencies really work.

Since My Elder is compensated only by the families we represent, we are not obligated or interested in protecting the needs or interests of the hospital, insurance companies, private healthcare service providers, or government agencies. My Elder, however, is the exception in a world of allegedly free services that continually put elders at risk.

Let’s imagine a common scenario. A senior falls and breaks a hip or suffers from a stroke. Suddenly, there’s a scramble to find a nursing home or other long-term care facility. In order to meet a growing demand and lured by the opportunity for fast money, so-called “elder care referral services” have sprung up around the country. Many of these referral services offer their help “for free”, but that’s not accurate. Adult care homes and nursing facilities pay the referral service a big commission for place, sometimes up to $4,000.

Relying on commission-only sales personnel means that aged individuals in need of care are frequently just referred to the services that pay the best commission fees.

There are several facts you should know about these allegedly “free” services:

  • Good nursing homes do not have to pay a fee to a patient broker or “advisor.” They are usually full and have an ample supply of referrals. The opposite is also true.
  • If a “free” service suggests a nursing home to you, you shouldn’t just assume that it is a quality facility. You must always practice due diligence and go see the facility for yourself.
  • You must ask the advisor about their professional qualifications. If they don’t have any, they are likely to do more harm than good.
  • Any service that touts itself as a free referral service is probably subcontracting for a facility that provides a commission fee, meaning this decision isn’t always based on the needs of your loved one.
  • Ask your “advisor” if they carry liability insurance. If they ask you to sign a document where they are not liable for placement quality, don’t use them. Since there is no such thing as “free”, ask an advisor how they get paid.
  • Unlike My Elder or other advocates, a free referral agency will not monitor your elder’s care at a facility. Nor will they advocate for them. Buyer beware!
  • These advisors are certainly not equipped to deal with specialized cases like Alzheimer or Parkinson patients.
  • For the most part, “free” elder care referral agencies do not deal with indigent or Medicaid recipients. If the elder can’t afford to pay privately for the facility, there will be no fee to the agency. These patients get referred elsewhere.

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At My Elder, we have always believed that the wellbeing, protection and safety of elders must come first. Whenever a service is offered as “free,” we see it as a sign that these values could be severely at risk.

That’s why we pride ourselves on our total independence when it comes to providing tailored eldercare choices to our clients. Our fee-based approach assures that we speak only for you and your elder family member.

My Elder provides elder advocacy services to families. Talk to us about long-term planning, finding the right home for your loved ones, preventing crisis and abuse, and ensuring they receive the best care possible.