Deciding to get help to care for aging loved ones is difficult, but the search for trustworthy, quality caregivers shouldn’t be.
That idea is the driving force behind Ro & Steve, a website where people can publicly share their interactions with senior living and care providers. Husband and wife team Matt and Lindsay Perrin created the site and named it for their parents. Matt’s mother, Rosemary, has Alzheimer’s Disease, and Lindsay’s father, Steve, has Lewy body dementia.
The Perrins acted out of frustration. Four years ago, Matt and Lindsay found themselves combing the internet to find senior living communities and home health care providers for their parents. They came up empty and felt more alone than ever in their situation.
“We just assumed we’d be able to use the internet to inform our process, and just became really, really frustrated by what we found”
“We just assumed we’d be able to use the internet to inform our process, and just became really, really frustrated by what we found,” Matt Perrin said. Instead of reviews and insights into caregivers, the Perrins found a lot of marketing, he said. “The mission just seemed to be more about brokering leads than it did about providing unbiased, user-generated content, which is really what we were after.”
To help others avoid the same experience, the Perrins launched Ro & Steve in October 2018. Free to use, the site lets visitors search for information by name, state, city or ZIP code. The results page lists providers and displays a map that lets users zoom in to find leaf icons marking locations of the businesses. Clicking on a leaf shows users the name and address of a business, plus an at-a-glance rating of one to five leaves (instead of stars). If someone has left a review, there’s a click-through to that and an option to save it to your list of favorites.
No registration is required to read reviews, but to write one, authors must enter their first name, last initial and email address. Reviewers can rate the business based on factors such as activities, food and dining services, and community environment, but the real benefit lies in the narratives.
“That’s really where the gold is,” Matt said. “This is just such a complex situation. It’s not like figuring out where you’re going to go get a sandwich.”
Ro & Steve populated its database of about 70,000 senior care facilities and home providers nationwide based on North American Industry Classification System codes that indicate the main purpose of a company and ReferenceUSA, which has publicly available databases by business type. The company’s community manager updates the database manually.
To ensure that reviews are legit and not written by a provider’s marketing staff, backend technology automatically checks that the email address isn’t connected to the organization. Then, the community manager reads the review to make sure it’s not overly positive or negative.
Currently, reviews number in the low hundreds and are mostly concentrated in the Northeast, where the New Hampshire-based company is located.
Providers can promote themselves, however. For $49 per month per location, they can brand pages on the website much like they would a Facebook business page, with a logo, cover photo and links to their websites and social media. Eleven subscribers have signed up so far.
Matt’s background in software helped prepare him for the technology side of Ro & Steve, but the personal connection makes this job unlike any other he’s had. As the number of people with dementia rises, the biggest challenge he sees is guaranteeing access to quality assistance for families who fall into what he calls the middle market – people with too many assets to qualify for benefits such as Medicaid but too few to make care affordable.
To help, the Perrins created the Give Back Program, through which they donate 5 percent of their monthly subscription revenue to nonprofits that support the aging population.
“If someone hasn’t been a caregiver, they will be,” Matt said. “Period. End of story.”
Stephanie Kanowitz is a Fairfax, Va.-based freelance writer, fitness instructor, mother and caregiver to her mother, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2012. Stephanie earned journalism degrees from the University of Florida (bachelor’s) and American University (master’s), and her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Washington Post Express, Red Tricycle, the Washington Diplomat and the Kveller blog.