Assisted-Living Industry Loosely Regulated in Alabama

As we near the peak of the holiday season, we expect many families will be reaching out to loved ones they may not have seen in some time, as they have been residing in nursing homes or assisted-living facilities.During this time, it’s recommended that family and friends pay close attention to the possible signs of injuries or illnesses resulting from nursing home abuse or neglect. This is especially warranted in light of a recent report by investigative journalism non-profit ProPublica.

In the course of their ongoing research, the journalists learned that state laws governing assisted-living facilities are not as uniform as those in place to protect nursing home residents. Although there is a tendency to view these living options as virtually one in the same, they are quite different in terms of state oversight. Alabama is no exception.

The report indicated that while Alabama state authorities can issue fines to assisted-living facilities, require certain educational thresholds for administrators and mandate minimum staffing ratios, enforcement of this is all of the map. This is because there is no requirement for periodic inspections.

While other states mandate that each assisted-living facility be inspected every year or two or three or even five, Alabama has no such requirement. It could be more than a decade before an Alabama assisted-living facility receives a visit from state inspectors. Whether health and safety violations occur in the meantime is a matter that might often go unreported to the public.

ProPublica pointed to a recent case out of Ohio, in which the elderly resident of an assisted-living facility outside of Cleveland drowned while taking a bath. Her doctors had specifically indicated that she was supposed to be supervised during bathing for safety purposes. She was alone for more than an hour in that tub on the day she died. State regulators were never informed of her death. The facility wasn’t required to do so. The death was ruled accidental. The public never knew what happened (until ProPublica published its piece). No one was ever held accountable.

Montgomery injury attorneys know there are approximately 750,000 elder adults residing in assisted-living facilities nationwide. Already a multibillion dollar industry, it’s poised to grow exponentially as the baby boomer generation ages.

These facilities are intended to provide a more independent alternative to nursing homes. However, they may be selling a false sense of security about the kind of care they can offer.

While Alabama legislators are to be commended for setting the bar higher than the vast majority of other states in terms of staffing and minimum education requirements, these benefits don’t do much if they aren’t routinely monitored and easily enforced.

The researchers at ProPublica found that even in cases where very serious lapses in care were identified, little was accomplished in the way of consequences. In some instances, lapses in care that resulted in deaths generated fines as little as $150.

For this reason, it’s up to family members to remain vigilant about the care their loved ones are receiving. While not all instances of abuse or negligence are readily apparent, there may be some warning flags to consider. Some possible indications of poor elder care at your loved one’s nursing home or assisted living facility:

  • Notable physical or emotional changes. Any deterioration in function should be more closely examined, and not simply chalked up to the normal side effects of aging. Evidence of emotional abuse might be agitation, withdrawal or an irregular sleep pattern. Someone suffering from physical abuse may have unexplained bruises, skin tears or pressure ulcers.
  • Evasive responses from staff about valid questions. If the people who are being trusted with the care of your loved one are trying to deflect your questions about their care, this is big red flag.
  • Staff that is overworked. It’s one thing for staffers to be busy. It’s another thing for them to be stretched impossibly thin. Observe the atmosphere – does it always seem a bit chaotic? Note whether the leadership is a presence. An overworked staff with lackluster leadership creates a wider opportunity for abuse or neglect.
  • Dehydration or malnourishment. This may not be intentional, but it’s wholly unacceptable.

Lastly, trust your gut. If you have a feeling something isn’t right about your loved one’s care, don’t allow your concerns to be dismissed. Explore them until your fears are quelled. Your loved one’s well-being may depend upon it.

Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 334.396.9200 to speak with a personal injury attorney today.

Additional Resources:
Elderly, At Risk and Haphazardly Protected, Oct. 29, 2013, By A.C. Thompson, ProPublica
More Blog Entries:
Alabama Negligence Lawsuits May Stem From Criminal Acts, Dec. 12, 2013, Montgomery Injury Lawyer Blog

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