Advocates for seniors address the federal government's role in assisted living care

Caregiver holding seniors hand
Posted at 6:24 AM, Feb 16, 2024

Assisted living facilities house more than 800,000 Americans. How much they cost, the quality of care residents receive, and the role the federal government should play in overseeing this industry is getting a closer examination by Congress.

The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing on January 25 examining these challenges. It was the first hearing of its kind in twenty years.

Patricia Vessenmeyer, a Virginia woman, whose husband stayed at an assisted living facility, provided testimony.

"They were understaffed. Too many patients were assigned to each caregiver," Vessenmeyer said.

Vessenmeyer's husband, John Whitney, was diagnosed with dementia and needed specialized care.

She urged lawmakers to set national standards for staff and their training.

"Most of their caregiver staff were trained as nurse aides, but nothing specific to memory care that I could see."

"I once saved a man's life. I was with my husband in a room off the main activity area. I heard someone crying for help. I ran into the hallway and found the old man on the floor, trying to prevent himself from being beaten with his own cane by another resident."

"Unless things change, I would never recommend using this type of facility for a loved one."

Insurer Genworth estimates the median cost of a private one-bedroom unit at an assisted is $4,500 per month ($54,000 per year).

"One major issue which I hear a lot about is cost. Assisted living facilities are widely unaffordable to the average American and their family. A recent survey found that 80 percent of older adults would be unable to afford four years in an assisted living facility," said Senator Bob Casey (D) from Pennsylvania and Chairman of the committee.

"An overburdened workforce can lead to issues with quality of care, neglect, and safety, resulting in the tragedies that we have all heard about. Senator Kaine and I introduced the JOBS Act, which allows students to use federal Pell Grants for high-quality, short-term job training programs. Senators Rosen, Collins, and I also introduced the Train More Nurses Act, which reviews all nursing grant programs to find ways to increase nursing pathways," said Senator Mike Braun (R) from Indiana.

The National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL) believes the federal government has an important part to play in the industry.

"Where we would like the federal government to get involved, is with creating that private-public partnership so that we can create opportunity for increased accessibility and affordability. And also, we would definitely like to see them partner with us in terms of increasing the workforce," said LaShuan Bethea, NCAL's executive director.

Unlike nursing homes, states primarily regulate assisted living facilities and not the federal government.

"It is really important to make sure that everyone understands that the vast majority of assisted living communities are already providing life-affirming care," Bethea added.

"We know that one of the reasons why residents and their families love assisted living is because it's able to be unique to their specific needs."