Senior care bill clears House committee despite objections

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Advocates oppose measure that lowers staffing requirements

Senior care facilities would no longer be required to have two direct-care staff members at all times in memory care centers and nurses wouldn’t have to be present every week under a bill that is headed to the state House for a vote.

House bill 1531, approved Thursday by the House Human Relations and Aging Committee, is sponsored by Rep. John LaHood, R-Valdosta, who is president of a chain of senior care facilities. He said the changes were needed to provide flexibility for senior care operators and keep costs down at a time when hiring staff is challenging due to a workforce shortage.

The bill alters reforms signed into law in 2020 to protect residents of private-pay assisted living facilities and large personal care homes. Most of the 2020 changes would remain in place.

However, the bill would allow the homes to meet nurse staffing requirements on a monthly, rather than weekly, standard. The bill would also permit one staff member if there are fewer than 12 residents during the day and 15 residents at night in memory care units. Outside of memory care, one staff would be enough if there are fewer than 15 residents in the facility during the day or fewer than 20 residents at night.

Current law requires a minimum of two direct-care staff at all times. LaHood said it was too costly and inconsistent to require two workers in a unit that might only have a few residents when the overall standard is one worker for every 12 residents in memory care during the day.

Advocates oppose the bill, saying that residents are safer with two direct-care staff available at all times, especially in memory care centers. Plus, advocates say staff members can keep an eye on other staff members, helping to reduce abuse or neglect.

“The Alzheimer’s Association will always land on the side of quality care standards,” said MaryLea Boatwright Quinn, director of government affairs for the Georgia Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. “Requiring two staff minimum per unit is a safety measure to ensure the ability to respond to the unique and ever-changing needs of memory care residents both day and night.”

The 2020 reforms came in response to an investigative series by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that exposed hundreds of cases of neglect and abuse at assisted living facilities and large personal care homes whose marketing materials promised attentive care in comfortable, well-appointed buildings. The AJC’s series also uncovered a weak and permissive oversight system in Georgia that failed to protect residents and didn’t provide families with easy access to information about inspections.

Assisted living facilities and large personal care homes offer a residential model for private-pay residents and are regulated at the state level. They are different from nursing homes, which are regulated primarily by the federal government and cater to sicker residents whose bills are often covered by Medicare or Medicaid.

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