A bill focused on regulatory reforms for assisted living community and personal care home operators in Georgia is back on the agenda when the legislative session resumes in June.

Industry representatives, however, are asking for some changes as they continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

HB 987 would impose staffing, training and financial reporting requirements on the state’s assisted living communities. The measure sailed through the state House of Representatives and was headed to the state Senate before COVID-19 ravaged the state and the Georgia General Assembly suspended its session. 

With the legislative session set to resume in June, Peach State lawmakers say the coronavirus pandemic has made the need for reform even more clear. But industry representatives are now calling for critical updates to the bill before a Senate vote.

Although Tony Marshall, president and CEO of the Georgia Center for Assisted Living and the Georgia Health Care Association, maintains that the organizations are dedicated to working with the state to ensure that HB 987 “appropriately enhances safeguards designed to protect the elderly,” he has two concerns with the bill related to significant additional staff training requirements prior to being allowed to care for residents independently in memory care units, and the development of a new administrator licensure process.

“Long-term care providers face significant workforce shortages as it is, and the ability to onboard staff and efficiently provide training as they assimilate into their job role is vital to ensuring sufficient staffing,” Marshall told McKnight’s Senior Living. “Requiring new staff to complete additional training before being able to care for residents independently may impede optimal staffing, which can be detrimental to ensuring the needs of residents are met.” 

Marshall said he would like to see the bill amended to include a “proper time frame” for staff to complete training without preventing them from working in a community, similar to what is in place in other states.

And although he supports the creation of an administrator licensing program, he is concerned that implementing the program as outlined in the bill would be costly for the state.

“We believe there are opportunities to explore the development of a certification process that would include core curriculum that would be developed and approved by the Long Term Care Facility Administrator Board and would not require the additional state expenditures,” Marshall said.

Development of the bill was led by state Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) following an Atlanta Journal-Constitution series reporting on allegations of neglect and abuse by caregivers in assisted living communities and personal care homes. Georgia Sen. Brian Strickland (R-McDonough) is leading the bill through the state Senate.

Genia Ryan, president and CEO of the Georgia Senior Living Association, said the GSLA “worked carefully” with Cooper, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and others to pass HB 987 in the House.

“We hope the bill will be considered and passed in the Senate when they reconvene in June,” Ryan said. “We believe this is a good bill for our industry and residents of assisted living communities and personal care homes throughout Georgia.”

Key highlights of the bill:

  • Increases in fines for serious violations. 
  • Additional nursing service requirements in assisted living communities.
  • Certification requirements and higher minimum staffing levels for memory care units.
  • New testing and licensing requirements for facility administrators.
  • Financial stability requirements, and resident notification requirements for bankruptcy or ownership changes.

Under the bill’s guidelines, facilities would have until July 2021 to meet most of the new requirements. But long-term care providers say additional time is needed to create required training programs due to struggles in dealing with the ongoing pandemic.

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