Having spent the last few years immersed in reviewing state regulations and reviewing inspection reports of senior living communities, I am familiar with what communities are required by law to have in place so the safety of their residents is ensured. All to often these requirements are advertised as amenities and perks, and each time I see this, I can't help but shake my head in exasperation. Here are a few of the most commonly listed requirements that I often see senior living communities advertise as amenities or perks when in fact they are required by law.
Sprinklers and Fire Alarm SystemWhen I see this claim on a community's website - We are fully outfitted with sprinklers and a fire alarm system - I always can't help thinking, "Of course you should be, that's the law." As part of the licensure process, communities are inspected by the local fire marshal to ensure they are in compliance with the state code. Communities are even required to have extra safety measures in place when they care for bedridden or nonambulatory residents. Here's the language from California's Manual of Policies and Procedures for Residential Care Facilities for the Elderly Section 87203 Fire Safety—All facilities shall be maintained in conformity with the regulations adopted by the State Fire Marshal for the protection of life and property against fire and panic.
Granted a residential home doesn't have sprinkles or a fire alarm system, apart from a smoke alarm, so seniors might not realize that the safety features of sprinklers or a community-wide fire alarm are required. Yet nearly every public space a senior may visit is outfitted with fire protection systems, so why should senior living communities be any different.
Employee Background ChecksPerforming employee background checks are advertised as community policy when, yet again, this is a policy required by law; even volunteers are required to have background checks in most states. While reviewing inspection reports, I have seen communities cited for allowing a staff member to work with residents before their background check is completed, and in California this citation is accompanied by a fine.
The state of Wyoming's Rules for Program Administration of Assisted Living Facilities spells it out quite simply in Section 5c: All staff of the assisted living facility shall successfully complete, at a minimum, a State of Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) fingerprint background check and a Department of Family Services Central Registry Screening before direct resident contact.
Protecting Resident's PrivacyResident records and resident information shall be kept confidential and only provided in accordance with law—as per New Hampshire's Residential Care and Health Facilities Rules. You can't get more straightforward or simpler than that. A community is required to protect a resident's privacy, which can mean locking resident records in a secure office or instructing staff not to discuss a resident's health status in front of other residents.
So how can families know a community is in compliance with state laws if it's not specifically called out? During the tour, ask to see the recent health and safety inspections or even procedure manuals. Communities are often required to keep the latest copy of the inspection survey on file or even post it for public viewing. Procedure manuals will detail how a community handles fire drills, background checks and resident privacy. If the community readily answers your questions and demonstrates their compliance by showing you these documents, that's how you can be satisfied your loved one will be well taken care of—through actions not words.