Proposed Assisted Living Regulations Would Allow Facilities to Rent Inaccessible Rooms to Persons Who Use Wheelchairs or Walkers

Tuesday, September 16, 2008 General News
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PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 15 Pennsylvania's proposed assistedliving regulations would allow facilities to rent rooms to residents that donot meet current safety standards and are not accessible to persons who usewheelchairs or walkers.

While new assisted living construction would be required to comply withstate minimum standards or practices, as well as federal accessibilityrequirements, existing facilities would be exempt under the Department ofPublic Welfare's new proposed Assisted Living regulations. Available datafrom 1999 showed that at any one time no less than 21 percent of AssistedLiving Residents rely on wheelchairs and 44 percent of Assisted LivingResidents rely on walkers.

"These proposed rules make absolutely no sense," said Robert Meek,managing attorney from the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania. "Whywould anyone want to jeopardize the safety and care of residents who areelderly or have disabilities? Assisted living is designed for some of ourmost vulnerable citizens who need to a safe place to call home. Many of themrely on a walker and/or a wheelchair to get around. They shouldn't beshoehorned into a box."

The Pennsylvania Assisted Living Consumer Alliance (PALCA) advocates thatthese facilities should provide at least 250 square feet of living space,excluding the closets and bathrooms. Other government agencies, including thePhiladelphia Housing Authority and the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency,recommend that living units should be no smaller than that size.

PALCA formed this year to ensure that new licensing rules will protectresidents who are elderly and who have disabilities. About 50,000 people inPennsylvania currently live in facilities that may call themselves assistedliving facilities. Assisted living has emerged in the past generation tohouse people who are not so sick that they require a nursing home. However,residents generally need more help with bathing, dressing, medicationmanagement and other basic care needs.

Under proposed rules, residents could wind up living in a space of only175 square feet. By comparison, hotel rooms average 325 square feet andsingle bedroom apartments typically include a bedroom between 250 and 500square feet. Efficiency apartments supported by the Pennsylvania HousingFinance Agency must be at least 400 square feet.

Pennsylvania's proposed assisted living rules also do not address issuesconcerning older buildings that do not meet current fire or life safetystandards. Many of these building were allowed operating licenses years agoand never had to achieve best practice standards for safety or accessibility.

Another short-coming in the proposed regulations is that assisted livingfacilities could prohibit appropriate service animals from the premises, aviolation of federal requirements. Many residents who are blind or who haveother disabilities rely on these highly trained animals to help themaccomplish basic daily tasks.

"These are not small issues," said Alissa Halperin, Senior Attorney andDeputy Director of Policy Advocacy at the Pennsylvania Health Law Project, theorganization leading the efforts of the PA Assisted Living Consumer Alliance(PALCA). "We want to preserve quality of life for residents. They need tofeel comfortable and cared for and the current regulations don't guaranteethat either will happen."

Accessibility is just one weakness in the draft regulations identified byPALCA. Other areas of concern include ensuring adequate staff andadministrator training, access to one's own doctor, a responsive appeals'process and sufficient residents' rights.

The House Aging and Older Adult Services Committee will hear consumers'stories on Thursday, Sept. 18 at 9:30 a.m. in room 418 in the Main CapitolBuilding in Harrisburg.

For more information about the regulations, click onhttp://www.paassistedliv

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