Assisted living facilities await new regulations

A long-sought law creating new rules for assisted living facilities was passed by the Georgia General Assembly this year and is set to take effect July 1.

But when that day comes, nothing will really change.

That’s because the regulations that will make the law work will not be ready by the end of this month. Final approval of those regs may take till November.

Yet the time lag didn’t seem to be the overriding concern of operators of personal care homes, assisted living facilities, independent living facilities and nursing homes, and patient advocates, who gathered at a town hall meeting Wednesday, held by a state agency seeking input on Senate Bill 178.

The main message from the attendees? Get the regulations right.

Senate Bill 178 was designed to help residents of assisted living facilities remain in place, and not be forced to enter nursing homes.

The law allows assisted living facilities to hire certified medication aides to help residents in taking their prescriptions. It also gives the facilities more flexibility in dealing with residents who need help getting around. If you are looking for assisted living options you can visit the Sundial Assisted Living home page.

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 creates 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).

A primary focus of the town hall meeting was the provision of the law that requires “meaningful distinctions between the levels of care provided by personal care homes, assisted living communities, and nursing homes.’’

That sentiment was voiced by Jennifer Kelley, administrator of an assisted living community and nursing home in Columbus.

“Be specific about what we’re allowed to do and what we’re not allowed to do,’’ Kelley told Sharon Dougherty, senior adviser for the Healthcare Facility Regulation division of the state Department of Community Health, who moderated the meeting.

Dougherty said she has looked at regulations in other states, such as Maryland, North Carolina and Oregon. “Things that make sense for Georgia, we’ll try to include,’’ she said.

A first draft of the rules should be out later this summer, she said.

Melanie McNeil, the state’s long-term care ombudsman, called it a ‘’reasonable timetable.’’

“I’d rather that the department get input, rather than rushing rules out that don’t work,’’ she said.