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Protecting Our Seniors - March 11, 2011

March 12, 2011

Following a Seattle Times investigation that uncovered abuse and neglect in some of Washington's adult family homes, our panel debates the merits of two proposed laws to regulate long term care for seniors.

Producer's Notes

Producer's NotesHubert Humphrey once said that the moral test of government is how it treats children, the sick, the needy, the handicapped and the elderly. Washington state lawmakers are facing that moral test right now, at least where the elderly are concerned.

Before them are several issues that would have an impact on adult family homes in Washington state. In case you don’t know, adult family homes are residential-based care facilities for the elderly. Basically, a caregiver applies for a license and can then have up to six elderly residents live in their home, providing various levels of care as needed. Adult family homes have become a good, low-cost alternative to nursing homes for many families that can’t care for an elderly loved-one themselves.

Adult family homes have been around since the 90s, and the industry is booming in our state. There are an estimated 3,000 in Washington. But the industry has grown so fast, it has outpaced regulation. A recent Seattle Times investigation found numerous cases of abuse and neglect of residents in adult family homes, and a lack of oversight or enforcement by the state.

The investigation also revealed how pretty much anyone can get a license to run an adult family home with little or no training, and how some people actually treat adult family homes as an investment: brokering, buying and selling homes like an asset – patients included!

One bill before the legislature would increase the application fee and cost for a yearly license to run an adult family home, making it a little tougher for just anyone to start one. It would also increase the frequency of state inspections, and increase fines for violations. Another bill would add regulations that govern how a placement agency selects the right adult family home for your loved one. A third issue before the legislature is whether they will implement new training standards that were approved by voters a few years ago.

It’s a complicated issue with a lot of parties involved. Most just want the best for elderly residents. But there’s stark disagreement over issues around fees, regulations and training requirements. Lawmakers will have to find the right balance between imposing burdens on the industry, and protecting some of the state’s most vulnerable residents.

It’s a moral test they can’t afford to fail.

Ethan Morris, Senior Producer