Push for more safeguards in senior care zips through the House

    Rep. Sharon Cooper (center in red) walks away from the well after her senior care bill breezed through the House Friday to applause. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

    A proposal to bring greater oversight to Georgia’s state-regulated senior care facilities is moving quickly through the legislative process.

    The measure, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper, easily passed out of the House Friday after just being filed a week earlier. It now moves over to the Senate.

    Cooper’s bill requires staffing ratios and more training at assisted living communities, personal care homes with more than 25 beds and memory care units, which focus on people with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

    For facilities that violate the law, they’ll have to pay a higher fine. They can be charged $2,000 per day – double the current fine – but the total fine cannot exceed $40,000. In cases of death or serious injury from neglect, a facility would have to pay a minimum of $5,000.

    It would also require facilities to prove their financial stability, and if they are the brink of bankruptcy, they would have to give residents two months’ notice.

    “Elderly people consider these facilities their home. They make friends, they’re fragile and they don’t need to get one week’s notice that they have to go out and find another place to live,” Cooper said.

    The proposal, HB 987, addresses many of the lapses documented in an investigative series from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that found disturbing examples of neglect and abuse at Georgia’s senior care homes.

    Lawmakers are focused on facilities that offer residents support for daily living activities but stop well short of the kind of medical care provided at nursing homes for those who cannot live independently.

    In addition to setting staffing ratios, the bill also requires assisted living facilities to have a nurse on site at certain times – at least eight hours each week – depending on the number of residents. This was an area of compromise, with Cooper preferring a nurse on site 40 hours each week.

    The bill may not cover everything that needs to be done, said Rep. Calvin Smyre. But the Columbus Democrat said the measure included several important changes, like higher fines, staffing requirements and demands for transparency.

    “A lot of times we do and we pass a lot of bills,” Smyre said. “But I think this is one that we can say that we are certainly, certainly going in the right direction and doing the right thing.

    “Because our elderly – that’s our anchor in our homes and in our communities – and they are the most vulnerable of all our population,” Smyre said.

    Jill Nolin
    Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.