Don't let assisted living home kick you to the curb

In the last 30 days, the Ombudsman has received five complaints that seniors are being threatened with involuntary discharge from their assisted living homes. This is often a terrifying prospect to a frail senior who doesn’t have the energy or mental capacity to fight for the right to stay in the home. So this month’s column will consider the rights that residents have under state law. As one canny senior said to me, “I know they can’t just kick me to the curb.”

First off, I hope that anyone worried about an involuntary discharge will call the Ombudsman. There are those rare but unfortunate cases where the home’s administrator takes a dislike to a resident and engages in wholesale harassment until the poor senior is a nervous wreck. That kind of tactic is especially cruel because the resident is not strong enough to defend him or herself. For all the mental health therapists and physicians out there who hear about this kind of emotional abuse, I hope you are making a report of harm to Adult Protective Services or calling the Ombudsman. We will be happy to step in.

So what does the law say about the procedures homes must follow to issue involuntary discharges? State licensing regulations require homes to give written notice of involuntary discharge 30 days before termination of the residential contract. The discharge notice must state the basis for the termination and the resident’s right to contest the termination. The resident has a right to request a case conference to discuss the discharge and to invite a representative, an advocate, a care coordinator, the home’s administrator and other care providers of the resident’s choice. If the home cannot be dissuaded from the termination, the administrator still has an obligation to cooperate in arranging relocation of the resident in another home.

When can an assisted living home terminate a resident’s contract against his or her will? State regulations specify that the home can issue an involuntary discharge in only six circumstances. The obvious ones, of course, are when the home is closing or when the resident refuses to pay his share of costs. Involuntary discharges are also authorized when the resident’s physician orders an emergency transfer from the home or for medical reasons.

If the home can no longer provide or arrange for services that the resident needs, an involuntary discharge may be warranted. Finally, when a resident has a pattern of behavior that causes harm to self or others, the home may issue notice of intent to terminate the contract. In this case, however, the home must have credible documentation that the resident’s behavior was actually harmful, not just annoying.

Many homes are very conscientious about working with a resident to meet his or her care needs or resolve problems so a discharge is not necessary. I have a lot of respect for those administrators. Their homes are truly centered on taking care of the seniors. I also appreciate the administrators who call us to ask for help handling a difficult situation without violating residents’ rights. They want to do the right thing. However, if you or your loved one is being forced out of a home unfairly, you have an advocate.

Call us at 334-4480 in Anchorage or 800-730-6393 toll-free statewide.

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