No one likes the thought of going to a nursing home, but assisted living facilities seem to provoke much less dread and concern. Nursing homes provide residents with 24/7 skilled nursing care while assisted living facilities provide housing, food, and care to individuals who are unable to live independently but who do not need institutional or skilled nursing care. However, a new report from Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc. (P&A) raises significant concerns about not only the care received at these assisted living facilities (referred to in the report as Community Residential Care Facilities or CRCF) but also the lack of systemic oversight.
Because many of the residents of assisted living facilities have physical or mental disabilities (including early onset dementia), the level of care can vary, but assistance with activities of daily living is generally necessary. And the failure to provide residents with proper housing, nutrition, supervision and care can lead to dire consequences for residents. Consider this finding from the P&A report:
P&A has found that many CRCFs are filthy, do not provide adequate food and heat, do not safely administer medications or arrange for needed medical care, and do not provide protection from abuse, neglect and exploitation. Inspectors have found infestations of cockroaches in facilities, blood on the walls, and food which is out of date and rotting. Some residents routinely lack prescribed medications or are given the wrong amounts of medications, and some residents have been physically harmed by staff or other residents due to lack of supervision. These CRCFs are no place to call home.
Clearly, these are serious problems, and although there are many quality assisted living facilities, many fall short of any reasonable standard. Something must be done. The report makes several common sense recommendations:
1. State law should be revised to give licensing agencies more enforcement options against frequently cited facilities and administrators, such as:
2. DHEC should inform the public and concerned parties about problem facilities. Facility inspection reports, including corrective actions, should be made available to the public on the internet.
3. The state should create an Adult Abuse Registry of individuals who have substantiated allegations of abuse or neglect of vulnerable adults against them. Facilities should be required to check the Registry before hiring a prospective employee.
4. The General Assembly should fully fund enough DHEC inspection staff to provide for periodic unannounced visits and full, timely investigation of allegations of regulatory violations.
5. The General Assembly should adequately fund the SC Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (LLR) to enable prompt investigation of complaints against CRCF administrators.
These are problems that should concern us all and a call to your state legislator can help bring attention to a problem that has been largely ignored. Until then, those with family members in assisted living facilities must be vigilant. Always be suspicious. Visit often and at different times of the day. Talk to your loved one, because unlike those who suffer in silence in a nursing homes, residents of assisted living facilities have a story to tell if someone will take the time to listen. Listen.
And of course, if a loved one is injured by abuse or neglect, consult a lawyer with experience protecting the elderly.