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Interview with David Besnette – Founder of Assisted Living Directory

Posted Mar 15 2011 6:51pm

Sooner or later, we will all have to deal with the subject of ‘assisted living’.  Be it a retirement community, a nursing home, a private residence or other type of assisted living, we will have to consider it for ourselves or someone we love.  It’s better not to wait to make such an important decision such as this when you have to, but rather, when you have time – like   now.

David Besnet, founder of Assited Living Directory, has made this process simpler for those pursuing information on this topic and agreed to an interview.

When I asked him how he came up for the concept for his website, Assisted Living Directory, he had a lot to say.

David: It’s been over ten years now that I wanted to make a career switch, so I started learning web design, and eventually built a few websites that started taking off.  One of my sites was specific to the Denver, Colorado area for the property rental market.   I wanted to add pages of useful content to the site for the Denver area, and one of those pages was for local Denver assisted living facilities.

At that time, there weren’t very many good sites with assisted living information on them, so the page did very well, and was one of the most trafficked pages on my site – which was interesting, since it was only intended to be supplemental information, and not the main content.    I had people email me, asking me to expand on my Denver information and create pages for different cities and states.

I immediately thought it was a good idea, since it appeared to be a relatively untapped niche.   I first tried to come up with a decent domain name, and my experience showed that having good keywords in the domain name is important, so after some fiddling around, I came up with assisted-living-directory.com

Within about a year, I was finding that I was spending most of my time on my assisted living site, so that became my focus, and my other sites have somewhat fallen to the wayside.    I thoroughly enjoy researching and writing about assisted living – it’s a fascinating and important topic, and in a market that looks to grow by leaps and bounds in the coming years.

One of the things that I wanted to do differently – without much of a plan – was to simply ‘give it away for free’ and see how it is received, and what might happen with such a model.   I know that good content is important to any website, and there is only so much one person can do – and write – so if I offered my site for free; I thought that I would get plenty of content and listings sent to me from facilities.  So far, it’s been incredibly well received, and at times, hard to keep up with (but that’s a good thing!)

Assisted Living Directory has also nudged me back into doing a few things that I love – writing, and learning techy stuff.   I love to research and write articles for the site (I am an ok writer, I think, and it is good practice), and I am learning how to do High Definition video, and the editing and polishing that comes along with it.   I plan on using my new video skills in a number of areas on the site in the near future.”

Sherri: Wow!  That is incredible!  Seems like it was meant for you to take on.  How long did this project take you to do, as it now, and how many facilities are listed on your site?

David: There are several sites out there who claim to have 30,000 plus facilities listed on their site.  I have learned that you can purchase a database from one of the bigger sites that can be downloaded and inserted into a website pretty easily.  It is fairly generic information, so I have resisted going that route.   I try very hard to develop a personal relationship with many of the facilities and companies who list on my site.

I would guess my site has between 10 and 15,000 facilities so far, and that number grows every day.    It’s literally taken me 6 years to build the site – adding new facilities almost every day – to get to where it is now.

Sherri: Did you find any facilities reluctant to become listed or outright refuse?

David: So far, I have had no facility or company complain to me, or decline to have their information included on my site.   On the contrary, I find that the comments and reception I have received with my site have been almost exclusively positive and very encouraging.  One of the things I like about my site is that it gives the smaller “mom and pop” facilities a way to advertise effectively without breaking the bank.

Sherri: I did notice on your website that you do ask for feedback on the facilities or services listed if others are aware of safety or quality issues.  Have you personally been to any of these facilities and if so, what has impressed you regarding the care that residence are given?

David: I have visited facilities in the Denver metro area, mostly – since that is where I live.   However, I do want to find time to personally visit more of them, and to make personal visits a more common element to my schedule in the future.

One of the ways I am doing this is by offering a video interview for facilities, where I will come to their facility and interview the administrator, or someone at the facility – to try to highlight their expertise , and to showcase their facility.  I will place their video interview on my homepage for a while, and then move it to a dedicated ‘interview’ page later on.    I have gotten some practice with a few videos that I have done already – and one interview – that can be found on my homepage.

I have a HD video camera, and have learned video editing, and I have my first facility interview in the works for the coming month with an Alzheimer’s care facility in Louisville, CO.

In almost every case where I have visited a facility, I have been humbled and impressed by how difficult it would be to care for multiple residents with advanced stages of Alzheimer’s, or other conditions [such as Parkinson’s disease] – and do it day after day with enthusiasm, energy, and dedication.

Sherri: What advice could you give a caregiver when looking for a place for a loved one?

David: I would offer that, in addition to doing thorough research of everything available in your area, or the area that you might be looking – look for online reviews about the facility.   There are a few review sites out there that collect input from consumers and display the reviews on their websites – Yelp.com is one where I am seeing more and more reviews for assisted living facilities.  Google also has reviews for many facilities if the facility has a “place page” with Google.

Sherri: Do you think that reviews are enough, when looking for an assisted living facility?

David: I don’t think reviews should be taken as the definitive truth – good or bad – but they can certainly be helpful if you see trends, or common issues that people are talking about.

Also, I would advise anyone to be careful if they submit their personal information to any website – especially referral websites.   Make sure you read their privacy policy (or make sure they have one), so you understand exactly how your personal information might be used, and what you can expect to “get” by submitting your information.

Sherri: How would you describe the term, ‘assisted living’?

David: Firstly, I think that beyond physical assistance, assisted living facilities can and often times provide emotional and even spiritual assistance to their residents – and beyond.    Facilities are becoming more and more able to accommodate different faiths and lifestyles – and can help with mental and emotional issues that may be present, or that may develop during the course of the resident’s time at the facility.

Also, assisted living isn’t necessarily just for seniors any more.  It seems like almost every day I get at least one email from a family, or an individual looking into assisted living for someone in their 40′s or 50′s.  I have seen even younger people looking for assisted living.  Unfortunately, there are diseases and conditions that aren’t exclusive to only people of retirement age – diseases that can affect a younger person’s ability to manage the tasks and activities of day to day life.

Lastly, I think that there can be a perception out there that assisted living is (aside from seniors) only for people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or memory disorders.   The range of conditions and illnesses that assisted living can help with goes far beyond Alzheimer’s – Parkinson’s Disease being a good example.  Cancer is another example where perhaps a person undergoing chemotherapy may need to live in an assisted living environment, since, as we all are probably aware – chemotherapy can render someone very weak and sick – unable to manage things like laundry, errands, cooking, medication etc.

Sherri: I’ve heard that each state has a different view or definition of what ‘assisted living’ is.  Can you speak to that?

David:  One of the most confusing aspects about assisted living is that it can be defined differently from state to state, and sometimes, it isn’t even officially called “assisted living” by a state.  In Michigan, for example, it is referred to as “Adult Foster Care.”  Assisted living can be defined, and regulated differently depending on where you are in the country.  This is one of the reasons why coming up with a generic, blanket description of assisted living is and can be a challenge.

Sherri:  Can you tell us about one of your new listings to give an idea of what kinds of facilities are listed?

David:  One of our newer ones is Barn Swallow Manor Adult Foster Care Home in Byron Center, Michigan.  It actually began as a dairy barn and was converted what it is now in 2008.  It is a beautiful home, as you can see if you check out the website. Besides being huge, it has many amenities.

We add photos photos, video clips, and a Google map for any listing, as long as that information is provided.

Sherri: Do you have any plans for the future in regards to adding to your site?

David: One of the things I am considering adding to my site sometime this year is a forum, where people can discuss a wide range of topics relevant to assisted living, including Parkinson’s disease.   I think that having a good place where you can connect with other individuals and families with similar circumstances might be a useful addition to my site.

Sherri: That would be really helpful and sounds great.  David, thanks for giving of your time and all the work you do to make others’ lives a little easier.

If you want to check out David’s site, you can find it here: Assisted Living Directory .

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