Opinion: Gold Dome: Keep working to safeguard seniors

THE EDITORIAL BOARD’S OPINION

A positive outcome of this week’s activity at the Gold Dome was that a proposed bill to relax some key caregiving standards for senior care facilities did not move forward – for now at least.

House Bill 1531 would have changed requirements for when nurses have to be present at assisted living and large personal care homes.

Another change would have eliminated the requirement that two staffers be on duty at all times and would allow the use of one worker, depending on the shift and number of residents.

In an editorial Tuesday, we wrote that the proposed changes seemed at odds with the desire to improve senior care in Georgia. A landmark law to help do that was passed in 2020 after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s “Unprotected” investigative reporting project revealed many instances of substandard care and harm that resulted.

HB 1531 was sponsored by a lawmaker who said his intent was to address very-real staffing shortages in the senior care industry. In a December 2020 story, the AJC wrote that “The quality of care in senior care homes is closely aligned with how many workers the facilities have, as well as the qualifications of the staff. Having a stable staff with low rates of turnover can help too, studies have found. But many Georgia facilities struggled to find hands-on workers long before anyone had even heard of COVID-19.”

Tuesday’s editorial said that worker shortages deserve the Georgia General Assembly’s immediate attention. Rather than seek to ease requirements of a still-new law, legislators should explore quickly how they might better help care facilities maintain adequate staffing.

Lawmakers should also ensure that state agencies charged with overseeing senior care facilities and investigating problems have sufficient, well-trained staff.

There is still a chance HB 1531′s language could be added to other legislation and become law this year.

The General Assembly would better serve vulnerable Georgians by devoting resources to find ways to strengthen senior care standards, rather than loosening them.

The Editorial Board.

About the AJC’s ‘Unprotected’ investigative reporting on senior care

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution collected thousands of public records from a variety of agencies to conduct an unprecedented examination of Georgia’s private-pay senior care industry.

Among those records, the AJC analyzed Department of Community Health inspection reports for every assisted living community in Georgia and all of the state’s personal care homes with 25 or more beds for the period of 2015 through 2018. The AJC also collected the state’s databases of fines and other enforcement actions levied against these homes.

To check for any appeals of state actions, the newspaper gathered and examined hundreds of documents from the state Office of Administrative Hearings in cases related to care facilities that the newspaper is studying. The AJC also reviewed state Certificate of Need records to determine how many requests the state was processing for new care facilities, and collected Department of Public Health inspection reports for the dining facilities operated by the care homes.