Assisted Living Centers: A Largely Unregulated, Booming Industry

Assisted Living Centers: A Largely Unregulated, Booming Industry

Living Trusts are an important service for California Document Preparers, and many of our clients are retired or thinking about it. As a result, discussions frequently surface about a range of life-planning topics such as social security, financial planning and hospice. A recent New York Times article about assisted-living facilities got our attention.

Federal investigators have discovered significant gaps in the way that assisted-living facilities are being regulated, potentially jeopardizing the care of the growing number of people who rely on these services from a booming, poorly regulated industry.

Assisted Living: Little accountability or regulation

According to the Government Accounting Office (GAO), the federal government lacks even basic information about the quality of assisted living services provided to low-income people on Medicaid. Billions of dollars in government spending are flowing to the industry, yet it has only vague standards and limited supervision. States reported spending more than $10 billion/year in federal and state funds for assisted living services for more than 330,000 Medicaid beneficiaries. That’s an average of more than $30,000 a person, with very little accountability.

Individual states are supposed to keep track of cases involving the abuse, neglect, exploitation or unexplained death of Medicaid beneficiaries in assisted living facilities.

  • More than half of the states were unable to provide data about the details of those cases.
  • Out of 50 states, only 22 were able to provide data on “critical incidents—those cases of potential or actual harm.” These states reported more than 22,900 incidents, including physical, emotional or sexual abuse of residents.
  • Many of the people involved in these “incidents” are older, with physical or intellectual disabilities. More than a third of residents have Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

The National Center for Assisted Living, a trade group for providers, said states already had “a robust oversight system” to ensure proper care for residents. According to this group, California, Oregon, Rhode Island and Virginia have adopted laws to enhance licensing requirements and penalties for poor performance of facilities.

The report, “Improved Federal Oversight of Beneficiary Health and Welfare Is Needed,” grew out of a two-year study requested by a bipartisan group of senators.

  • The report concludes that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have provided “unclear guidance” and have done little to monitor the use of federal money that is being directed toward assisted living facilities.
  • Without a clear process for evaluating and monitoring facilities, the committee has no way of knowing if states are meeting their commitments to protect the health and welfare of Medicaid beneficiaries in assisted-care facilities.

Standards for nursing homes

In 1987, Congress established standards for nursing home residents’ rights, imposed dozens of new requirements on homes, specifying the services they must provide. Yet assisted-living facilities have largely escaped scrutiny, even while the GAO says the demand is likely to increase with the aging baby-boomer population and increased life expectancy. Not surprising, the potential to make money off a needy population has attracted investors to an unregulated industry.

The report was commissioned by a bipartisan group of senators

Democrats and Republicans commissioned this report, and the Trump administration is recommending that federal officials should clarify the requirement for states to report on the abuse or neglect of people in assisted living facilities. The administration said it was studying whether additional reporting requirements might be needed.

Assisted living was not part of the original Medicaid program, but many states now cover it under waivers intended to encourage “home and community-based services” as an alternative to nursing homes and other institutions. The report said that assisted living could potentially save money for Medicaid because it generally costs less than nursing-home care.

Nothing in the report disputes the fact that there are many assisted living facilities that are doing an excellent job of providing high-quality, compassionate care for their residents.

The mission of assisted living facilities

Assisted-living communities can be a wonderful bridge between living at home and living in a nursing home. Residents live in apartments or houses; they have a high degree of independence but require help managing their medications and performing daily activities like bathing, dressing and eating.

Personal experience with assisted living

My own folks moved to a retirement community when their home became too much for them to manage. As their friends died, they also were becoming increasingly isolated. They  loved this busy new environment, the activities and the warm, friendly people. They lived happily in their own little unit for seven years.

When my stepfather had a stroke, my mother was too weak to care for him. As part of their contract with the community, they were able to move to assisted care when and if it became necessary. The stroke was the catalyst, and we moved both of my parents into assisted care. Before long, my stepfather moved into nursing care. Both of my parents died within six months. During this time, they were extremely well cared for by kind, generous caretakers to whom we were all very grateful.

We encourage everyone to create a Living Trust

But for those whose parents have been diagnosed with some form of dementia, the timing becomes much more critical. Our dedicated team is helpful, compassionate and affordable. Contact California Document Preparers at one of our three Bay Area offices today to schedule an appointment.