Families anxious over stalled assisted living bill

The Georgia legislative session has just three days remaining. But for people like Fred Brown and Mignon Fleishel, it will be an agonizing countdown.

They each have an elderly mother living in a Kennesaw assisted living facility. Both women have dementia and need help with mobility.

Brown and Fleishel want their mothers to remain at DayBreak Village – where they are happy — and not be forced to live in a nursing home.

A bill that would help their parents stay there has passed the state Senate, but is stuck in the House – the apparent victim in a political tug-of-war between the two chambers.

Senate Bill 178 would allow Georgia assisted living facilities to hire certified medication aides to help residents in taking their prescriptions. It would also give the facilities more flexibility in dealing with residents who need help in getting around, like Brown’s and Fleishel’s mothers.

Brown says he’s frustrated by the legislative bottleneck. He doesn’t want the assisted living bill to wait another year before passage. “I don’t know whether my mother will last another year,’’ he says. “She’ll soon be 89.’’

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

The Senate bill 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).

But with the Legislature not convening again for another week – and with just three days left for bills to pass — the wait continues for hundreds of families, says Kathy Floyd, associate state director for advocacy at AARP Georgia.

Such legislation in past years has been stymied by the nursing home industry. But this year the Georgia Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, has agreed to the assisted living changes. Patients who require around-the-clock care would still end up in nursing homes.

Consumer advocates ‘’have waited on this for 16 years,’’ Floyd says. “We don’t want to wait another year.’’

“This is a consumer choice issue,’’ she says. Families want their loved ones to ‘’age in place,’’ she adds.

The bill has stalled in the House Rules Committee, with sponsors so far unable to pry it loose.

“What you see always in the Legislature is horse-trading between the two bodies,’’ Floyd says. “Unfortunately, this bill has been caught up in that.’’

If Senate Bill 178 gets to the House floor, it will pass easily, Floyd says.

Fleishel points out that changing the state rules will help a ‘’tidal wave’’ of older Georgia residents. “We have so many people aging,’’ she says.

She says her mother ‘’is thriving’’ at DayBreak Village.

Brown says his mother-in-law was forced to go to a nursing home a year ago and died there. He doesn’t want his own mother to move. “It’s very important that she live with dignity.’’

The legislative impasse leaves his mother’s situation in limbo, Brown says. “I would sure hate for the ball to be dropped now.’’