D.C. sued over assisted living

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By Gregory Lopes
November 9, 2006
Senior citizens lobby AARP is suing the District of Columbia to force the city to begin licensing assisted-living facilities that meet a set of quality standards.
The District’s long-term care ombudsman, Gerald Kasunic, is spearheading the lawsuit, which would force the D.C. Department of Health to fulfill a law passed in 2000 that ordered a licensing system that would include measuring the quality of care in assisted-living facilities.
“The District’s failure to create, implement and maintain a quality care licensure structure jeopardizes the health and safety of District residents residing in assisted-living facilities,” Mr. Kasunic said.
The number of assisted-living facilities in the District has climbed from very few 10 years ago to 49 facilities housing about 1,100 residents. Assisted-living facilities are the only health centers in the District not currently licensed by the city.
Every state has a licensing system for assisted-living facilities, but few states include quality standards in the licensing process.
Without a license from the city, insurance companies often will not pay for the health care provided in the facility. And without a licensing regulation, the city has no enforcement capability to react to residents’ complaints.
The lawsuit was filed late last month in D.C. Superior Court; no hearing date has been set.
The D.C. Department of Health has drafted a final proposal to charge assisted-living facilities a licensing application fee that the city will use to implement the legislation, said spokeswoman Leila Abrar.
The funds from the application, which will cost each facility $100 and an additional $6-per-room charge, will garner the city about $10,000 from the 49 facilities.
Mr. Kasunic said that is not enough money to set up a quality-assurance program or medical treatment program that the lawsuit is seeking to implement.
“There is no way that kind of money will be enough to develop quality measurement tools and pay the salaries of a survey team to do the inspections,” he said.
“I do believe there is a lack of will, competency or communication within the Department of Health. Somebody is deciding assisted-living facilities regulations are not moving forward, ” he said. “If this were an issue of licensing a cafeteria in the new baseball park, it would be done today.”

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