Protecting our most vulnerable populations should be a top priority for not only every elected official but our community as a whole. Our seniors do not always receive the protections they deserve, and this issue will only grow in importance. North Carolina has a rapidly aging population. By 2025, 90 of the 100 counties in North Carolina are projected to have more people over the age of 60 than under 18. This type of shift requires policymakers to look closely at resources and care for our transforming population.
Seniors in assisted living facilities too often face challenges related to escalating costs, unwarranted discharge and conditions that are not in keeping with their expectations – especially given the high costs many are paying – or our community’s anticipations for quality senior care. According to the 2016 Annual Report of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, a total of 3,769 complaints were filed with the state over a one-year period.
Of these complaints, the largest portion were related to resident rights, with a considerable number associated with financial issues or discharge. Given that many long-term care residents suffer from memory issues or other mental or physical disabilities, it is critical that we act to ensure this population is not exploited, especially during what should be their golden years.
During this year’s short session, I filed legislation to tighten some of the loopholes in this industry. The Assisted Seniors Financial Protection Act focuses on making the resident discharge process more equitable, as one of the main concerns of residents is fear of unwarranted discharge. The legislation also addresses the care and cost structure for residents and installs a safeguard against surprise price hikes due to a change in care or service.
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After filing the legislation, leaders from the assisted living industry worked collaboratively with me to address prevalent issues in facilities. It was clear that not all facilities were following the spirit of the law related to the fees that were being charged. By going directly to the facilities, there is hope for more expeditious improvements in the quality of service and care for our senior population.
This bill, and the collaboration with the industry, are only a first step. To protect our seniors, we must work together to ensure that all are being looked after in the way each of us would want for our own parents and grandparents. I am committed to making sure that our seniors live safely and without fear of neglect or extreme financial hardship. I encourage others to commit to this issue. We must all work together as a community to ensure that long-term care facilities are following not only the letter of the law, but also the spirit of the law, when it comes to caring for our seniors. They deserve nothing less.