An assisted living facility in metro Atlanta earlier this month. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Opinion: Ga. assisted living facilities offer quality care

The Georgia Health Care Association and Georgia Center for Assisted Living (GHCA/GCAL) are dedicated to ensuring the safety and well-being of elderly Georgians. Any instance of poor care, neglect, abuse or exploitation is unacceptable. The incidents outlined in the AJC’s “Unprotected” series are tragic, and our hearts go out to those residents and their families.

Nevertheless, it is unfair to tarnish all assisted living community caregivers based on those incidents. For the overwhelming majority of caregivers, serving the elderly and frail is their life’s calling, and they enhance the lives of senior Georgians on a daily basis.

We believe the Unprotected series paints an unfair picture of the overall care that is currently being provided in Georgia’s assisted living communities. The AJC collected and aggregated survey data from four years of inspection reports (2015-2018) and drew conclusions based partially upon aggregated violations which neglected to also recognize and measure improvements made over the four-year time frame.

We regularly hear from happy and satisfied residents and their loved ones regarding their enriching assisted living experiences. There are literally many thousands of positive interactions between staff and residents of assisted living communities each and every day. We need to honor these caregivers and their chosen profession if we hope to attract more caring and qualified staff. They deserve far more credit and praise than the “Unprotected” series seems willing to give them. Their jobs are among the hardest this country has to offer.

These caregivers also need help. There is a shortage of staff, and turnover in the current tight labor market is high. The AJC’s series will hopefully prompt a robust discussion about workforce development to meet the demand — a demand that will become greater as the number of seniors needing support and services continues to grow.

This is not to diminish the need for aggressive efforts to weed out the bad apples. In 2018, GHCA/GCAL helped pass legislation mandating criminal background checks for anyone having direct access to residents of assisted living communities. The checks include fingerprinting and extend beyond frontline staff to all owners, administrators, directors, and managers. The first stage of the background check program was implemented on October 1 of this year.

GHCA/GCAL is also working with the GBI and the Forensic Special Initiatives Unit of the Georgia Department of Human Services Division of Aging Services to educate providers, law enforcement, and others on reporting abuse, neglect and exploitation. We are also engaged in a dialogue with the GBI and Georgia Coroners Association about making the reporting more effective in protecting residents. We offer education and training related to abuse prevention, signs and symptoms of abuse, and abuse reporting for all members, including assisted living communities.

But while these and other initiatives to prevent and root out abuse, neglect and exploitation are critically important, there is still more to be done. More systematic changes are needed to supplement the existing workforce with more caregivers who are well-trained, dedicated and passionate about the sacred mission of caring for our elderly.

Long-term health care providers in Georgia are evolving to meet the needs of the state’s rapidly growing aging population, and GHCA/GCAL is dedicated to supporting their quality advancements. We also support transparency and the timely sharing of inspection data with the public, and we look forward to continuing to work with providers, regulators, consumers and advocates with the common goal of ensuring that quality care is being provided in all long-term health care settings.

To that end, GHCA/GCAL invites all stakeholders to engage in a meaningful dialogue about developing a competent, professionalized workforce that is valued and respected for the essential care and services they provide.

Tony Marshall is president and CEO of the Georgia Health Care Association/Georgia Center for Assisted Living (GHCA/GCAL). The Georgia Health Care Association/Georgia Center for Assisted Living is a non-profit association of skilled nursing centers, assisted living communities, and home and community based case managers called SOURCE. GHCA/GCAL strives to enhance the ability of its members to provide competent and compassionate care to meet the ever-changing health care needs of elderly Georgians. For more information, visit www.ghca.info.

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