Government Study Finds Issues in Oversight of Assisted Living Facilities

Today, a growing number of Americans live in assisted living facilities.  These facilities are intended to be a bridge between living at home and residing in a nursing home.  In an assisted living setting, a resident can still live with a high degree of independence, but can receive help managing their medications and performing activities of daily living, like bathing, dressing and eating.

In a shocking report released earlier his month, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) detailed their study that found the federal government lacks even basic information about the quality of assisted living services provided to low-income people on Medicaid.  The report titled “Improved Federal Oversight of Beneficiary Health and Welfare is Needed,” was done at the request of a bipartisan group of senators including Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), Susan M. Collins (R-Maine), Claire C. McCaskill (D-Missouri), and Elizabeth Warren, (D-Massachusetts).  The senators ordered the study in July 2015 to better understand federal and state oversight of these facilities, which increasingly receive federal Medicaid dollars but are not subject to the same federal rules as nursing homes.  According to the study, states reported spending more than $10 billion a year in federal and state funds for assisted living services for more than 330,000 Medicaid beneficiaries, an average of more than $30,000 a person.  Despite the tremendous amount of federal funds flowing to companies operating assisted living facilities, there is very little government oversight of the industry.

“The GAO report found that 26 states could not report to GAO the number of ‘critical incidents’—serious health and safety problems that could include physical assaults, sexual abuse, unexplained death, unauthorized use of restraints, medication errors and inappropriate discharges or evictions—occurring in assisted living facilities in their state,” a statement from Sen. Warren’s office said. “But the 22 states that did track this information used different definitions of critical incidents, further complicating effective oversight of such facilities.”  While all states consider physical, emotional or sexual abuse as a critical incident, some states did not identify other problems. For instance, seven states didn’t indicate potential harm or neglect, such as medication errors, as a critical incident. Three states didn’t consider unexplained death as a critical incident.  Of the 22 states that did track critical incidents, the study found that there were more than 22,900 incidents in one year, including the physical, emotional or sexual abuse of residents.  In many cases, the report found that when states did identify a significant problem at a facility, that information was not made available to the public.

While this report is certainly alarming, the potential good news is that it may lead to changes that will provide further protections to those living in assisted living facilities.  “Seniors and people with disabilities deserve to live safe, healthy and full lives. But this report finds that thousands of seniors face serious health and safety risks in their assisted living facilities,” Sen. Warren said. “Medicaid spends billions of dollars to provide this care—and we need to make sure we have the information necessary to ensure accountability. I plan to pursue legislation to address these groundbreaking findings.”  Senator Hatch echoed Warren’s sentiments, “given that each year the Medicaid program spends billions on assisted living facilities to ensure beneficiaries receive the high-quality care that they deserve, we must be vigilant that these programs are working as intended.”

The Suthers & Harper has been fighting for victims of abuse and neglect for more than 25 years.  If you believe a loved one has been the victim of abuse in an assisted living facility or nursing home, contact the experienced Nursing Home Attorneys at Suthers & Harper. Suthers & Harper, which practices throughout the States of Georgia and South Carolina, regularly represents victims who have been abused or neglected and their families in cases against nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

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