I was watching the CBS news this evening with my husband with the intention of catching a special report they were airing titled "Aging in the Shadows". Because of my health care background and now my experience of working with seniors to transition to senior housing I'm in a position to offer a unique perspective. One, I hope won't go unnoticed. Tonight NBC was warning viewers of the dangers of unregulated assisted living facilities. They shared a tragic story of a man who died in an accident at the facility. Please understand the following comments are not in any way to dismiss the pain due to the loss of a loved one; especially when you believe them to be in a safe place. My heart goes out to any family in these circumstances. Unfortunately, these accidents also occur in highly regulated nursing homes. My point? Regulations will not stop accidental deaths.
Today assisted living communities in Minnesota enjoy very little regulation. Let me explain what this means to you as a consumer. First and foremost it means affordability. Ask any health care professional what regulations do to the cost of health care. There are entire teams that are responsible for the implementation and ongoing maintenance to ensure facilities are complying with the thousands of regulations they must follow. Not too long ago a nursing home in Minnesota was given a citation for not properly posting the recipe for toast. No Kidding. This is what happens when industries are given broad sweeping regulations.
Secondly, it means you can find a community that has very few services, to communities that offer a full spectrum of medical services. This increases the possibility of finding a community that offers what you require in a price range that meets your budget. If prices are inflated due to increased regulations, I will show you a percentage of the population that will not be able to afford private-pay assisted living, and will instead end up in nursing homes on Medicaid. This means you and I pay for it.
Third, this flexibility has led to a decrease in nursing home beds. Ask anyone, this is a good thing.
Fourth, due to the aging baby boomers, health care is on it's toes in a competitive way never before seen. This increased demand will drive creative solutions in housing and health care options in 10 years that we don't have today. Over-regulation of this industry will hand-cuff creative solutions and cripple the health care industry.
This flexibility in the industry is the very thing that must give you, as consumers pause. For this is what makes it dangerous for you to make a decision about what is a proper home for my mother/father/loved-one? Am I equip to assess his/her needs and ask the correct questions of the senior community? Do I have a good understanding of the point at which a particular community would no longer be safe for my elder?
I propose a third-party independent assessment of the needs of the patient a pre-requisite to being admitted to a senior assisted living community. These communities are under pressure to lower their vacancy rates. They are a business and they are competitive (which is the very free-market system that keeps the downward pressure on prices) and they cannot be objective about placements.
I think safety requirements are a good idea, and there's no reason to not look at some broad-safety kinds of requirements (yes, I know. In health care EVERYTHING can be tied to the safety of the patient. That's what makes regulations by over zealous politicians so dangerous, and expensive to the consumer). Let's put together a consortium of assisted living facilities to build those safety requirements before the politicians do it for us.
My greatest fear is that in two years regulating assisted living communities will become the next big political platform, and no matter which party is elected, it will be our elders who loose.