Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey is threatening to strip the state licensing body for assisted living communities and nursing homes of its responsibilities and transfer them to another department — a move one senior living association leader called “greatly concerning.”

Ducey on Monday called for the Arizona Board of Nursing Care Institution Administrators and Assisted Living Facility Managers to be stripped of all licensing and regulatory responsibilities and to have those duties transferred to the Arizona Department of Health Services, which also conducts inspections. Ducey also vetoed Senate Bill 1282, which would have reauthorized the board for eight years, until 2029.

Arizona Health Care Association Executive Director David Voepel said one of his biggest concerns is that the ADHS licenses buildings, not people. 

“Trying to take this and plop it in isn’t as easy as it sounds,” Voepel told McKnight’s Senior Living. Knowing that the department also conducts surveys and certifications for assisted living communities and skilled nursing facilities, Voepel said that a “huge firewall” needs to be put between that regulatory piece and licensing administrators, “or you will have a more significant crisis in staffing. Who would want to be put on the hot seat in front of judge, jury and executioner?”

The nine-member, governor-appointed NCIA board, which is responsible for regulating assisted living managers and nursing home administrators, was the target of an investigation by the Arizona Republic, which reported that the board granted a license to Larry Michael Rasmussen, a skilled nursing facility administrator convicted of felony fraud. The media outlet also reported that the board did not investigate complaints in a timely manner and did not provide accurate information to the public.

One of the tools the board uses in considering an administrator application, Voepel said, is the fingerprint clearance card, which is required to obtain a license and is issued by the Arizona Department of Public Safety. Rasmussen had that card, which raises questions about how he obtained it with a felony conviction.

Voepel said the board doesn’t have a felony act statute available to it. Although the board can ask about felony convictions on an application, it doesn’t have the ability to conduct background checks. Speculation also exists that Rasmussen lied on his administrative license application regarding his felony conviction.

“We don’t need to be duplicative. We need the fingerprint clearance card to do its job,” Voepel said.

In a letter regarding the veto of SB 1282, Ducey said that the “board is failing in its duty” and that he was moving to “improve the oversight of administrators of long-term care facilities” in seeking to transfer all licensing and regulatory duties to the ADHS. 

“It’s time for accountability and new leadership to supervise these facilities,” Ducey said in a statement. “Our seniors — these are our grandmothers and grandfathers — deserve nothing less.”

Although the Arizona Health Care Association has scheduled meetings with the governor’s office and the Legislature to discuss a solution, Voepel said that a “smooth and quick transition” is needed since the NCIA board is set to end its duties on June 30. The state cannot afford to go without administrators, especially in a pandemic environment drought with workforce shortages, he said.