Stories in the press have highlighted some frightening cases in assisted living. Neglect and abuse have hastened the deaths of at least 27 elders in CA. An entire group of frail elders was abandoned in one facility, when the state shut it down, but failed to transfer the residents elsewhere for days. It was horrible.
That could just be the tip of the iceberg.
Is it a scary thought to consider putting a loved one in assisted living?
Overall, it need not be a dangerous decision. However there are a few basic things to know that are hidden in the rhetoric between the assisted living industry and the consumer advocates who bring the horror stories to the public’s attention.
First, assisted living is in a bit of a grey area legally. It is regulated by Departments of Social Services in our states, not by Departments of Health. And yet, besides providing a pleasant, enriched social environment for the vast majority of residents, some facilities take in elders who need far more care than assisted living is qualified to deliver. They are taking in residents who need health care. When they do so, residents can languish without the care they require and some die prematurely.
Do we need more government regulation of the industry? I believe so, but that can only solve part of the problem. For example, due to budget cuts and lack of regulations, assisted living homes are only inspected every 5 years in California. That’s ridiculous! Closer government inspection will likely stop some of the neglect and poor conditions that have been highlighted in reports of nightmarish and sad assisted living stories. We need to fund that with higher licensing fees. Even the professional assisted living association in CA (CALA) agrees with that concept.
The rest of the problem is twofold. First, the facilities should never take in any resident who starts out needing skilled nursing care or 24/7 monitoring. They are not set up for it, they don’t have the staff for it, and they have never even been required to have a licensed nurse on hand to judge what care to give nor to deliver that care. Caregivers are not required to be trained to actually give health care, dementia care or anything other than basic help with such things as bathing and walking.
The other part of the problem is the families of the elders. All too often they come to assisted living looking for a pleasant place to put an aging loved one, without facing the truth of how much care that loved one needs. The owners and operators of assisted living homes want to keep the apartments full. They need to do so to make a profit. Therein lies the conflict between doing what is right and being profitable. Families of elders need to accept the hard fact that sometimes a skilled nursing facility is the right choice. And operators need to be truthful in telling prospective residents and their families that some seniors are just not a right fit for assisted living.
CA has a list of proposed new assisted living regulations being considered by the legislature in 2014. They may help, but will not solve the problem of bad facility operators, nor of families who dump elders in places where they don’t belong. Both bear responsibility for what goes wrong in these places.
If you are considering assisted living as an option for your loved one, look carefully. Get a doctor’s recommendation for the right place for your elder. Do your research.