Bill aims to revamp assisted living rules

Many assisted living residents may get legislative help to remain in those facilities, rather than face discharge and eventual placement in a nursing home.

The House Health and Human Services Committee approved House Bill 405 on Monday. It would allow Georgia assisted living facilities to hire certified medication aides to help residents in taking their prescriptions. The legislation (and a similar Senate bill) would also give the facilities more flexibility in dealing with residents who are not ambulatory.

Currently, if an assisted living resident is considered non-ambulatory, the state requires that person to be discharged – frequently moving to a nursing home – unless a special waiver is granted. And there are restrictions on what medication help is allowed.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta), told the Health and Human Services Committee that the legislation would help prevent people being forced out of assisted living facilities.

House Bill 405 would create a new category for assisted living facilities of at least 25 beds that serve only private-pay patients. Currently the state lists just two classifications of long-term care facilities: nursing facilities and personal care homes (which now include assisted living).

The effort to establish that new category was begun 16 years ago, AARP says.

Advocacy groups for seniors have long sought to loosen the restrictions on assisted living to allow residents to remain there longer.

“Consumers want the choice to age in place,’’ said Kathy Floyd, advocacy director for AARP Georgia, in an interview. ‘’This bill is a good step in that direction.’’

Groups such as the Georgia Health Care Association, which represents the state’s nursing home industry, and the Assisted Living Federation of America expressed support for the bill.

Advocacy organizations say nursing homes have stalled changes in assisted living rules. “After 16 years, we’re excited that the nursing home association is at the table and helping move this forward,’’ said Floyd of AARP.

Earlier, the House panel heard testimony from groups that said the bill as written could prevent some residents from remaining in smaller personal-care homes through state waivers.

But Rep. Mickey Channell (R-Greensboro) offered an amendment – approved by the panel – to remove the section of the bill that concerned the owners of those personal care homes.

Under current Georgia law, assisted living facilities can provide several services, including food; 24-hour “watchful oversight”; help in bathing, dressing and other daily activities; and supervision of self-administered medication. But assisted living can’t provide routine medical or nursing services. That level of care is delivered by skilled nursing facilities.

A bill proposing new assisted living regulations cleared a House committee during the 2010 session of the Georgia General Assembly, but it did not reach a floor vote.