Oklahoma: Assisted living plagued by conflicting regulations, operators say

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Two large assisted living companies will not expand their operations beyond the communities they already run in Oklahoma because they have found it “hard to do business” in the state, Melissa Holland, executive director of the Oklahoma Assisted Living Association, told a legislative panel in the state Sept. 2. That's according to state Rep. Jason Murphey, who participated in the interim legislative study meeting of the House Committee on Business, Labor and Retirement Laws.

Having state and local regulatory requirements that conflict “creates chaos” and “tends to harm business activity,” Murphey said. “It creates a confusing situation for the businessperson, who has to figure out how to satisfy one entity while not being in violation with another,” he added later. Murphey had requested the study of regulatory reform.

When state Rep. David Perryman asked Holland whether companies might be reluctant to expand in Oklahoma because of declining provider reimbursement rates, Holland replied that both companies to which she referred operate private-pay communities, which do not rely on government payments.

Holland was not the only assisted living representative at the meeting. Cheryl Bales, executive director of Senior Star assisted living centers in Okmulgee and Jenks, OK, told the committee that conflicting requirements for fireproof doors imposed by local fire marshals and by the state health department have not been resolved in two years. The issue has affected Senior Star's ability to boost its certification from I-1 to I-2, Bales said, according to Murphey's account. All of the residents in a community with an I-1 rating must be able to evacuate the premises under their own power in the event of an emergency, Holland explained. In contrast, in a community with an I-2 code, residents can be assisted when evacuating the building.

Proper water temperature for resident baths as well as washing clothes and dishes is another discrepancy, Holland said. “Different employees interpret regulations differently,” said Patrick Gaines, a lobbyist for the Oklahoma Assisted Living Association.

Dan Morris, a real estate broker with CBRE Group, told panel members that leasing and sales of seniors housing has declined in Oklahoma. “I hear the regulations argument all the time” among operators and investors who “feel it's overregulated,” he said.

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