GHCA/GCAL CEO Tony Marshall

Senior living provider advocates in Georgia say they will be watching regulatory and legislative responses to a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation of the industry in Georgia to try to ensure that they don’t negatively affect the provision of care in the communities.

“While many of the recommendations made thus far may be appropriate, any specific piece of legislation would need to be carefully evaluated to ensure its implementation would not negatively impact the ability of communities to provide care on a daily basis,” Tony Marshall told McKnight’s Senior Living. He is president and CEO of the Georgia Health Care Association / Georgia Center for Assisted Living. “Once we see specific legislation, we will weigh in accordingly,” he added.

The newspaper, which published articles in its series beginning in September, said it found more than 600 allegations of neglect and 90 of abuse by assisted living caregivers in the past four years.

In a Jan. 11 guest column, state Rep. Sharon Cooper (R), chairman of state House Health & Human Services Committee, cited “shortcomings of the state’s oversight of assisted living facilities,” including “the failure to keep up with the rising senior population, a lack of adequately and appropriate training among nursing staff, how these facilities are licensed and how reports of neglect and abuse within these facilities are handled.”

Cooper also is a medical administrator and a registered nurse. Among the recommendations she made in her letter were developing a certified nursing assistant concentration for dementia care and other skill sets that may be underrepresented in assisted living communities, expanding a state tuition assistance program, developing a more in-depth screening process for those seeking to establish or expand assisted living communities, and changing mandatory reporting laws covering neglect and abuse.

“We continuously evaluate additional steps that may be taken to ensure that high-quality care is being provided in all long-term care settings and recognize the role that enhanced training and education plays in ensuring we have a skilled and competent workforce,” Marshall said. “Additionally, we support transparency and the timely sharing of inspection data with the public.”

The need to improve transparency and make the sharing of inspection data more timely were two points made by Vicki Vaughn Johnson, chair of the Georgia Council on Aging board, in a separate guest column in the newspaper.

Johnson said the council has made recommendations to Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Georgia House Speaker David Ralston. They include: Increase fines for rules violations, “properly staff” the agency regulating the industry and upgrade its information system to enable timely inspections and reports, make information about violations and complaints more transparent to consumers, and increase staffing ratios at facilities.

“We also have recommended to the House Study Committee on Innovative Financial Options for Senior Living that Georgia change its assisted living licensing categories to allow for multiple levels of care, each with its own rules and regulations,” she said.

Lawmakers also should keep in mind the purpose of assisted living when evaluating additional potential regulatory requirements, Marshall said. “While assisted living communities have a healthcare component, their primary purpose is to provide a home-like setting with opportunities for socialization and leisure activities that allows individuals to receive the assistance they need while maintaining maximum independence and personal choice,” he said.

GHCA / GCAL supports “efforts designed to enhance the care being provided in our state,” Marshall said, noting that the organization’s “highest priority … is the safety and happiness of all individuals residing in a long-term healthcare setting.”

In his own opinion piece in the newspaper, Marshall highlighted “many efforts that have already been taken to make quality advancements and ensure the safety and wellbeing of elderly Georgians.”

“We at GHCA / GCAL do believe there is more to be done,” he said.

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