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Federal government needs to take closer look at assisted living facilities

Over the last 20 years, a housing industry has sprung up to handle elderly citizens who cannot live independently but do not require around-the-clock nursing.

Known as assisted living facilities or ALFs, the industry offers seniors a range of housing possibilities from two-bedroom suites with access to golf and tennis in ritzy vacation spas to small rooms in dilapidated motels and former hospitals.

ALFs have become the fastest growing segment of residential care for the elderly. And along with their rise have come a host of health and care issues that need to be addressed by the federal government, according to an article in the Elder Law Journal published by the Illinois College of Law.

By law, ALFs are not considered medical or mental health facilities and are viewed as residential only. In addition to a private or semi-private room, they typically offer meals for residents, housekeeping services, assistance for taking medications and provisions for social activities.

About half report having a registered nurse on staff either full- or part-time. But a number of differences exist between ALFs and nursing homes, Patrick A. Bruce, a former editor at the journal, noted in the article.

"In contrast to assisted living facilities, nursing homes are subject to federal guidelines because they rely on Medicaid and Medicare funds. A second major difference between assisted living facilities and nursing homes is their respective costs. Assisted living facilities typically cost less than nursing homes. However, this cost is misleading because assisted living residents use private funds to pay for their expenses while eligible persons can use Medicaid to cover nursing home costs."

Surveying the regulation of ALFs by state agencies, Bruce found lax rules and inconsistent inspections. Lack of staff training is a major shortcoming in many states. Maryland, for example, requires only three hours of training to work in an
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Contact: Mark Reutter
mreutter@uiuc.edu
217-333-0568
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
1-Nov-2006


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