Nursing homes are generally regulated tightly by both state and federal law. Federal guidelines require that nursing homes be inspected at least once every 15 months, and homes that accept Medicaid and Medicare dollars are subject to a host of regulations. All of these laws are designed to protect elderly people who live in nursing homes as among the nation’s most vulnerable populations.
Unfortunately, assisted living facilities are far less tightly regulated than nursing homes and yet they are increasingly chosen as an option by aging individuals who no longer can or want to live on their own but who are not yet ready for the more intensive care that nursing homes can provide. Estimates indicate that as many as 750,000 people are currently residing in an assisted living facility, but unfortunately a recent joint investigation by Frontline and ProPublica shows that many of these residents may not be getting the care they need. The problem is that there is very little regulatory oversight of these facilities, with essentially no federal regulations and with the requirements varying considerably from state to state.
Regulations Lacking for Assisted Living Facilities
Nursing home abuse lawyers in West Palm Beach know that assisted living facilities typically do not accept either Medicaid or Medicare as a method of payment for those who choose to live in these environments. As a result, these facilities are not subject to oversight that comes from accepting government insurance dollars.
Because the federal government has not passed laws specifically applicable to assisted living environments, this leaves the regulation of the facilities up to local government authorities, and many of them are falling down on the job and failing to pass or enforce rules that could help keep seniors safe.
For example, in a total of 14 states there is no rule mandating that administrators of assisted living facilities have high school diplomas much less any type of advanced education or medical training. Most states do not require assisted living facilities to have any licensed nurses or medical care providers on staff, and states permit staff members to be as young as 16-years-old when working in an assisted living environment. Since the jobs in assisted living facilities often pay low wages (sometimes minimum wage), facilities may be staffed by young and inexperienced people who are not equipped to recognize the needs of seniors.
Assisted living facilities not only have untrained staff, but many may also be understaffed as well. There are 14 states in the U.S. with staffing ratio guidelines, and some of these provide very little protection to seniors since they allow for as few as two workers to stay overnight for every 200 residents living in the assisted living facility. Neither of the two workers necessarily need to have any medical training, and one of the two is allowed to be asleep. Surprisingly, though, in other states, things are even worse since there are no requirements associated with staff ratios at all.
The mixed bag of regulations across different states, and the overall lack of regulatory oversight, has resulted in these assisted living facilities putting seniors at significant risk. The ProPublica and Frontline investigation actually found that some assisted living residents were dying as a result of the lack of care. Furthermore, even for serious safety violations, penalties were often really low, such as fines of just $150 or so.
Seniors are the ones who pay for the inadequate laws. If you or a loved one is entering an assisted living facility, it is important you do your research carefully to find a safe living environment. If a home has let you down, you have legal rights.