Response / Solution To Better Care For Elderly

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Nearly a dozen state-wide and local organizations have joined the Pennsylvania Assisted Living Consumer Alliance (PALCA) since the July announcement of the Alliance's formation. Dozens of individuals have likewise joined the Alliance's efforts to ensure that proposed licensing rules safeguard the care of elderly and disabled residents.

The Alliance, which has now grown to nearly 30 groups, is urging the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare to revamp key components of its proposed assisted living regulations. The regulations prompted more than 200 public comments, reaction from legislators and comment from the Independent Regulatory Commission. The final regulations are scheduled to be released in early 2009.

"Our burgeoning membership indicates just how critical the new regulations are to thousands of Pennsylvanians," said Alissa Halperin, Senior Attorney and Deputy Director of Policy Advocacy at the Pennsylvania Health Law Project, the organization leading PALCA's efforts. "We are forging ahead with one united voice. The rules must be strengthened to guarantee that assisted living residences fulfil their promises to our most vulnerable citizens."

After reviewing the proposed assisted living regulations this summer, the Alliance identified numerous shortcomings that would deny residents basic consumer protections. For instance, the draft rules do not establish a minimum number of training hours for direct care staff and they do not require facilities to develop a care plan before a resident moves in and starts payment.

Some other ways in which the proposed regulations fall short include:

-- They propose far too few staff members on duty to meet residents' needs

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-- They allow resident living space that is far too small

-- They omit essential residents' rights that should be afforded to all consumers.

-- They provide consumers with no right to challenge a facilities decision to kick them out.

-- They make no requirement for all hallways and common areas to be wheelchair accessible.

-- They take away a resident's right to continue to use or otherwise choose their own healthcare providers, such as their doctor or psychiatrist.

About 50,000 people in Pennsylvania currently live in facilities that may call themselves assisted living facilities. Assisted living has emerged in the past generation to house people who are not so sick that they require a nursing home. However, residents generally need help with bathing, dressing, medication management and other basic care needs. Currently, Pennsylvania regulations lump assisted living facilities together with a wide range of homes for the elderly and disabled.

With funds from The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Pennsylvania Health Law Project has drawn together a broad coalition of Pennsylvania organizations since January. The grassroots movement also has attracted support from numerous individuals and families.

"Our goal has been to make sure that the people most affected by the new regulations can help shape them," Halperin said. "We believe Pennsylvanians deserve quality assisted living facilities that deliver appropriate and adequate care."

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