Opinion: Senior living industry strives for quality care

A room in an assisted-living facility.

A room in an assisted-living facility.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s examination of the assisted living industry has appropriately brought unsettling details of some negative situations to light, and I regard every noted infraction as important and believe that accountability as absolutely essential. In no way do I want my words to sound callous, but I believe it is also fair to illuminate the overwhelming positives of our industry, and thus far, the coverage has not focused at all on the compassionate, quality care provided to more than 28,000 residents in the state’s more than 400 senior care communities with 25-plus beds.

For any industry, the goal is always to figure out how to minimize, and ideally eliminate, problems, and the assisted living industry is no different. We always strive for perfection, and Georgia’s senior care providers work diligently to ensure they are complying with laws and regulations governing the industry. Additionally, many are now providing staff training that exceeds state requirements with the ultimate goal of preserving the safety, independence and dignity of residents.

Assisted living continues to be dynamic, adapting to provide quality, innovative care to residents because that is what residents and their families demand, and they are not shy about speaking their mind when expectations are not met. Such is the case throughout Georgia’s network of Assisted Living Communities (ALC) and 25-plus-bed Personal Care Homes (PCH). The consumer-driven free market, where people willingly choose to spend their hard-earned money on services that make their lives better, is a system of natural checks and balances.

Seniors and their families typically visit multiple communities and conduct extensive research before deciding on a provider that best meets their needs, budgets and preferences. The decision to move into an ALC or PCH is the chosen path for thousands of seniors throughout Georgia. This private-pay alternative to the mostly government-funded skilled nursing facility model is saving taxpayers tremendously, while allowing seniors the flexibility to age-in-place in settings of their choice.

Assisted living facilities, including memory care communities, have proven to be extremely popular with residents and their families as a less-restrictive, community-based alternative to nursing homes. As the rate of Alzheimer’s disease increases among seniors and as researchers seek a cure, assisted living can provide a safe, home-like environment that promotes dignity and respect with trained staff who are knowledgeable about the condition and its symptoms.

By 2050, the population of Americans who are 85 and older will triple. Falls, heart disease, osteoporosis and dementia are common, chronic conditions at the age of 85 – the age of a typical senior living resident. Senior living providers understand that the aging process is universal but not the same for everyone and that on any given day, an ALC or PCH could be the site of an unfortunate event.

Risks are reduced through ongoing quality assurance processes, and expectations are reached through trust and communication. One-on-one care at all times is not feasible for most, and even a resident who is monitored can experience a negative incident for a variety of reasons. Through a commitment to best practices, policies and procedures, negative incidents can be minimized. But, make no mistake, neglectful or abusive treatment of individuals should be punished to the full extent of the law, and any provider who does not grasp the seriousness of these issues should not be licensed.

Legislation was passed earlier during the 2019 legislative session that allows ALC’s to provide greater access to comfort measures for residents enrolled in a hospice program. Furthermore, my colleagues and I support other legislative priorities that remove barriers to providing high-quality care:

  • Supporting programs and services that encourage individuals to save for their long-term care needs and allow seniors to live in the least restrictive and most integrated setting of their choice.
  • Supporting efforts to protect vulnerable seniors from financial exploitation, while ensuring eligible veterans receive the benefits that they are entitled to receive.
  • Supporting implementation of policies that aim to effectively prevent and treat Alzheimer's disease by 2025.
  • Supporting low-income seniors through innovative solutions to overcome barriers to receiving appropriate care.

Currently, assisted living facilities in the state provide Georgia seniors and their families with safe, nurturing, community environments and are evolving to meet their needs more effectively.

State Rep. John LaHood represents District 175 and is a provider of senior care.