In Broward County, Florida the South Florida Sun Sentinel
- Assisted living facilities often market themselves as "just like home," cozy places where people will live just like they did in their houses or condos. But many don't realize their new lifestyle has the equivalent of a month-to-month lease.
Under Florida regulations, assisted living operators need give residents little more than a 45-day written notice in order to evict them. The discharge rules are among the least restrictive in the nation, according to the National Senior Citizens Law Center.
"Florida is an outlier on the wrong side of the curve. It allows people to be forced out at will," said Eric M. Carlson, the law center's directing attorney and long-term care policy expert.
Florida advocates' ongoing efforts to change eviction rules failed again this year, with legislators not acting on reforms proposed by an assisted living task force. The group — composed of assisted living administrators, legislators, policy experts and advocates — was convened last year by Gov. Rick Scott to examine care centers' oversight and regulation.
Florida's Long-term Care Ombudsman Program, which protects the rights of nursing home and assisted living residents, said it will continue to push for discharge policy changes when the group begins meeting again next month.
An assisted living facility doesn't need to document specific reasons for a discharge and its residents have no right to appeal the decision, unlike in nursing homes. The staff isn't required to help residents find another place to live — even if the evictee is alone, sick or very elderly.
State Ombudsman Jim Crochet said assisted living discharges should be handled similarly to those in nursing homes. Proposed changes include requiring the ombudsman program be notified when an eviction notice is issued, and that residents be entitled to a state-supervised appeals hearing.
The ombudsman's office investigated 75 complaints about inappropriate evictions last year, and 72 complaints from residents who said they feared retaliation — including being discharged — for being too demanding or questioning staff decisions.
One reason that discharge regulations aren't uniform is that nursing homes are governed by federal laws, and assisted living facilities by state regulations. And assisted centers, unlike nursing homes, are not allowed to house people with complicated medical conditions or advanced dementia.
So discharges often happen when a resident's health deteriorates and the facility can no longer legally or safely care for the person, said Pat Lange, executive director of the Florida Assisted Living Association, an industry group.
Passing more extensive rules could tie the facilities' hands "if they feel they need to relocate someone in order to meet the resident's needs," Lange said.
Jean Merget, a family consultant with the Memory Disorder Center at North Broward Medical Center, said most of the discharges she's encountered are sensible and handled properly. "I tell my caregivers not to fight discharge decisions," she said.
Some geriatric care managers, who coordinate services for elders, say families sometimes hear nothing about discharge policies when they sign their contracts — then suddenly, the resident is asked to leave, said Rona Bartelstone, the senior vice president of care management for SeniorBridge. "The family feels they have been bait-and-switched," said Bartelstone, of Fort Lauderdale.
Bartelstone said assisted living centers should do a better job telling residents up front about eviction policies and consumers should educate themselves before moving in.