If you live in an assisted living facility, or have a loved one who does, you’re part of a growing group of Americans – currently about three-quarters of a million – who are healthy enough to live more or less independently but need some help with activities of daily living. This assistance can take the form of medication reminders, help getting dressed, and a wide range of other services. Assisted living is an ideal situation for most of those who choose it.
But what happens when the assisted living facility tells you that your loved one can no longer stay? Sometimes these legal notices of eviction can come without warning, giving families 30 days to scramble for other arrangements under highly emotional and stressful circumstances. When that eviction notice comes, what recourse does a family have?
Evictions are the Number One Complaint
This article just published on the Kaiser Health News website answers the question. Written by well-known columnist Judith Graham, the article is titled “Assisted Living Kicks Out The Frail ’Cause ‘We Can’t Take Care Of You Any Longer’.” As Graham writes, “Across the country, assisted living facilities are evicting residents who have grown older and frail,” claiming that they can no longer provide necessary care. It turns out, says the Kaiser report, that evictions are the number one cause for complaint about long-term care across the U.S. According to the article, almost 3,000 eviction complaints were recorded in 2016, the most recent year for which data are available. Senior living experts believe that number is almost certainly much lower than the actual rate of evictions would indicate.
“Often” says Kaiser’s Graham, “there’s little that residents or their families can do about evictions. Assisted living is governed by states, and regulations tend to be loosely drafted, allowing facilities considerable flexibility in determining whom they admit as residents, the care they’re prepared to give and when an eviction is warranted.” Evictions are usually allowed when a resident fails to pay for their care, fails to follow the facility’s rules, or somehow becomes a danger to themselves or to others. Evictions are also generally permitted when a senior living facility closes or changes to serve a different population. But the most general category under which evictions are allowed, and the one that creates the most ambiguity, says Kaiser, occurs “when management decides a resident’s needs exceed its ability to provide care — a catchall category that allows for considerable discretion.”
Assisted Living Eviction Rules are Different, Offer Less Protection
There’s a big difference between federal guidelines under which nursing homes operate and the state rules that govern assisted living facilities. “Unlike nursing homes, assisted living facilities generally don’t have to document their efforts to provide care or demonstrate why they can’t provide an adequate level of assistance,” the article warns. “In most states, there isn’t a clear path to appeal facilities’ decisions or a requirement that a safe discharge to another setting be arranged — rights that nursing home residents have under federal legislation.” There have even been documented cases in which residents have faced eviction because they or their family members had complained about inadequate care. The Kaiser article cites a daughter who visited her mother one day and took pictures of staff members napping, then sent the photos to the facility administrator. “A few days later, she got a call telling her that her mom had become combative and needed to be taken to the hospital for psychiatric treatment,” says the report. Elder care experts say they see this kind of thing frequently.
(As noted, the rules that govern evictions from nursing homes are different, and more stringent, that those under which assisted living facilities operate. For a very helpful legal explanation of this difference, we suggest this 6-page brief from a group called NCLER – the National Center on Law and Elder Rights. It was published in 2017.)
Possible Recourse when Facing Eviction
What recourse do families have when facing evictions – or better still, what safeguards can protect against eviction in the first place? “Elder law attorneys and long-term care ombudsmen recommend several strategies,” says Kaiser. We’ll quote from the article.
- Before moving into an assisted living community, ask careful questions about what the facility will and won’t do
- Review the facility’s admissions agreement carefully, ideally with the help of an elder law attorney or experienced geriatric care manager. Carefully check the section on involuntary transfers and ask about staffing levels. Have facility managers put any promises they’ve made to you in writing.
- If facing eviction, usually with 30 days’ notice, don’t move out right away. If the facility says it can no longer manage a loved one’s care needs, bring in a physician to evaluate whether assisted living is still a viable option.
- Try negotiating with the facility if you can suggest a solution to the concern managers are raising.
- If necessary, file a complaint with your local long-term care ombudsman’s office, which will trigger an investigation and usually slow down the process.
- Consider bringing the matter to landlord-tenant court or civil court in your area — a legal option available when other avenues for appeal are not available.
- Staying in place and waiting for the facility to initiate legal action will buy you time, which should be your goal. Don’t rush to move into another facility without checking and making sure it will be a better fit.
- One of the hardest questions when facing eviction is to ask, “Do I really want to be someplace that doesn’t want me?” For most clients, the answer is no.
Housing and So Much More
Deciding on the best choice for senior housing is a critical part of retirement preparation, but it’s only one facet. Here at AgingOptions we recommend a uniquely comprehensive approach to retirement planning in which choosing where to live is just one of many components. We call this LifePlanning, because this approach really does cause all the key aspects of life as you age to mesh together: housing, medical, financial, legal and family. With a LifePlan in place, you’ll be able to experience a secure and fruitful retirement in which your assets will be protected, you’ll be able to avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones, and you won’t be forced against your will into institutional care.
Why not invest just a few hours and find out more? You’ll be very glad you did! The best way to explore the power of an AgingOptions LifePlan is by accepting Rajiv’s invitation to join him at an upcoming LifePlanning Seminar. We offer these popular free informational events several times each month, in locations throughout the area. Please visit our Live Events page for a complete calendar of currently-scheduled seminars, then register online or by phone for the date of your choice. Just as no one type of housing is the right choice for every senior, there’s no “cookie-cutter” plan that’s right for every retiree. Your personalized LifePlan will literally become the passport to the retirement of your dreams. Age on!
(originally reported at www.khn.org)