Proposed Assisted Living Regulations Would Allow Facilities to Rent Inaccessible Rooms to Persons Who Use Wheelchairs or Walkers

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Consumer coalition calls for quality standards to protect Pennsylvania families from inadequate regulations

Last update: 12:49 p.m. EDT Sept. 15, 2008
PHILADELPHIA, Sept 15, 2008 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ — Pennsylvania’s proposed assisted living regulations would allow facilities to rent rooms to residents that do not meet current safety standards and are not accessible to persons who use wheelchairs or walkers.
While new assisted living construction would be required to comply with state minimum standards or practices, as well as federal accessibility requirements, existing facilities would be exempt under the Department of Public Welfare’s new proposed Assisted Living regulations. Available data from 1999 showed that at any one time no less than 21 percent of Assisted Living Residents rely on wheelchairs and 44 percent of Assisted Living Residents rely on walkers.
“These proposed rules make absolutely no sense,” said Robert Meek, managing attorney from the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania. “Why would anyone want to jeopardize the safety and care of residents who are elderly or have disabilities? Assisted living is designed for some of our most vulnerable citizens who need to a safe place to call home. Many of them rely on a walker and/or a wheelchair to get around. They shouldn’t be shoehorned into a box.”
The Pennsylvania Assisted Living Consumer Alliance (PALCA) advocates that these facilities should provide at least 250 square feet of living space, excluding the closets and bathrooms. Other government agencies, including the Philadelphia Housing Authority and the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, recommend that living units should be no smaller than that size.
PALCA formed this year to ensure that new licensing rules will protect residents who are elderly and who have disabilities. About 50,000 people in Pennsylvania currently live in facilities that may call themselves assisted living facilities. Assisted living has emerged in the past generation to house people who are not so sick that they require a nursing home. However, residents generally need more help with bathing, dressing, medication management and other basic care needs.
Under proposed rules, residents could wind up living in a space of only 175 square feet. By comparison, hotel rooms average 325 square feet and single bedroom apartments typically include a bedroom between 250 and 500 square feet. Efficiency apartments supported by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency must be at least 400 square feet.
Pennsylvania’s proposed assisted living rules also do not address issues concerning older buildings that do not meet current fire or life safety standards. Many of these building were allowed operating licenses years ago and never had to achieve best practice standards for safety or accessibility.
Another short-coming in the proposed regulations is that assisted living facilities could prohibit appropriate service animals from the premises, a violation of federal requirements. Many residents who are blind or who have other disabilities rely on these highly trained animals to help them accomplish basic daily tasks.
“These are not small issues,” said Alissa Halperin, Senior Attorney and Deputy Director of Policy Advocacy at the Pennsylvania Health Law Project, the organization leading the efforts of the PA Assisted Living Consumer Alliance (PALCA). “We want to preserve quality of life for residents. They need to feel comfortable and cared for and the current regulations don’t guarantee that either will happen.”
Accessibility is just one weakness in the draft regulations identified by PALCA. Other areas of concern include ensuring adequate staff and administrator training, access to one’s own doctor, a responsive appeals’ process and sufficient residents’ rights.
The House Aging and Older Adult Services Committee will hear consumers’ stories on Thursday, Sept. 18 at 9:30 a.m. in room 418 in the Main Capitol Building in Harrisburg.
For more information about the regulations, click on

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