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Discussion: How Can the U.S. Better Regulate and Improve Elder Care?

iStockphoto/ gregobagel

Live chat with Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica: Where do we go when we can no longer care for ourselves?

As America's population ages, assisted living facilities have emerged as an attractive option for people too ill or frail to live on their own. But is this growing industry – which now houses nearly 750,000 elderly Americans – capable of adequately caring for the seniors in their facilities? 

A recent investigation by ProPublica and PBS FRONTLINE found evidence that the assisted living industry's biggest player, Emeritus Senior Living, allowed the drive for profits to trump quality care. State authorities have often responded to fatal mistakes in Emeritus facilities and those run by other assisted living chains by handing out meager fines – or no fines at all. An upcoming report by the Center for Investigative Reporting has also found serious shortcomings in California's regulatory system.

So what's the best way to regulate elder care facilities? Are current laws falling short? And what can you do to ensure your loved one gets the best and safest care possible?

Join  ProPublica and the Center for Investigative Reporting on Thursday, September 12 at 11 a.m. PT/ 2 p.m. ET, where reporters Ryan Gabrielson and A.C. Thompson will be available to answer your questions about how to improve regulation and better protect America's elderly. If you can't make the chat, you can also leave your questions and comments in advance in the box below.

Key Takeaways:

  • Several residents are happy with their care in assisted living facilities. But the resident population has gotten "more ill and frail than ever before," according to reporter A.C. Thompson, and regulators don't seem to have kept up with the progression. In the course of our reporting, we found cases in which a person with dementia died after drinking toxic dishwashing liquid, cases of jumping or falling from windows and numerous instances in which people died as a result of violence. "If roughly nine percent of the people in assisted living are unhappy, well," said Thompson, "that is a fairly large number."
  • For years, no one outside the California Department of Public Health monitored regulators' activity, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting's Ryan Gabrielson. His latest report found that for decades, the state's health department neglected hundreds of cases of abuse at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. They then dismissed the cases with little investigation. 
  • Though Gabrielson and Thompson haven't seen much voluntary change from assisted living facilities, California lawmakers are beginning to toughen penalties. State senator Ed Hernandez says the $150 fine for deaths in California assisted living is too low. 
  • If you're making decisions about a loved one's care, research problem caregivers in advance. Gabrielson recommends the federal health care exclusions list,state licensing and abuse search registries and the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. UT San Diego has advice on searching for an assisted living facility. We also have seven questions you should ask during your search. 

Related reading: If you like this chat, you may also be interested in our list of seven questions to ask when searching for assisted living, our 4-part investigation into Emeritus Senior Living and FRONTLINE’s film on the assisted living industry.

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