Senior living operators continue to cling hard to the notion that federal regulations must be avoided at all costs. Far better to let states set up the rules of the road, most insist.
Frankly, who could blame them? For Exhibit A in the case against federal rules, we need only look at what has happened to skilled care operators. Not only must nursing homes adhere to enough “rules of participation” to choke a blue whale, these mandates constantly are being adjusted and slathered on.
What. A. Nightmare.
If I were running a senior living community, federal rules are the last thing I would want, too. So believe me, I understand.
But my head tells me that it’s just a matter of time until federal rules are put in place. Why? Two likely reasons.
One is that senior living will find it increasingly difficult to pass itself off as a concierge-type business (which remains the story many communities still try to fob off).
Depending on which numbers are used, somewhere between 24,000 and 40,000 senior living communities are spread across the nation. Many are providing services that look an awful lot like skilled care. And more than a few are petitioning hospitals for discharged patients. Sorry, gang, but that’s too tempting a target for the name-to-make lawmaker who eventually will insist that we “bring some order” to the sector.
The other driver? Senior living operators themselves.
Take the recent heartbreaking story about Grace Watanabe, a 97-year old with dementia. She was forced to live in a Japanese internment camp during World War II, which may be the second worst way she was treated.
The first was probably the looting of her assets while she was a resident at a senior living community in Chicago. This was not just an aide lifting some jewelry (although that, too, is despicable). No, according to published reports, a team of employees systematically drained her bank account. They did this by cashing checks, transferring funds online and good old fashioned ATM withdrawals.
It’s exactly the kind of outrageous episode that can galvanize voters to insist as one that something be done.
Does this mean all hope lost? No.
Actually, there is a very specific something that the senior living field can do. Argentum, the American College of Health Care Administrators or some other accrediting group could create a special membership category for the best of the best in the field. To be a member, candidates would have to pass a rigorous credentialing process that proves a commitment to quality, a rejection of unethical behavior and a requirement to report unprofessional behavior by others in the field.
Think Code of Honor. But a real code of honor. Not just the lip service we see in some, shall we say, other places?
By the way, these members would be required to undergo an annual review to make sure they still qualify. And that would include a rigorous audit by inspectors who know a thing or two about cooking the books.
Admittedly, that’s a tough way to go. But the way I see it, senior living operators really have two choices: Look at your shoes, or look in the mirror.
Either way, there will be consequences.