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Protections for Residents of Elder Care Facilities

Laws create restrictions for referral firms

AARP Washington pushed for the two measures to rein in a previously unregulated industry, McDonald said. Combined, the two measures mean Washington is a pioneer in regulating the adult family home industry.

While some referral agencies and elder care facilities opposed the new regulations, many others favored the efforts.

"Some of them were sick of bad actors making their industry look bad," McDonald said.

Les Ostermeier, co-owner of a referral agency in the Seattle area, called the legislation "a necessary step to give needed protection to older adults and their families." His firm provides placement advice to families seeking senior housing. It collects fees from elder care providers, not from older people and their families.

More transparency

Ostermeier said the disclosure required by the law will make the industry more transparent.

He said most agencies that make referrals to assisted living facilities are operated by ethical individuals and that many of the problem agencies are national, Internet-based firms that collect and sell the names of prospective clients.

"They really don't offer any guidance or support to seniors," he said. "Their focus is on generating money, not on helping people find what they want or need."

Jeff Crollard, attorney for the Washington State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, said the elder care referral industry has grown substantially in the past five years, "but it's been completely unregulated." That explosion is expected to continue as more boomers age and need long-term care.

Crollard said the new laws are a "major step forward," but licensing of referral agencies may be necessary eventually to establish uniform qualification standards.

To report problems with an adult family home or referral agency, contact the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program toll-free at 1-800-562-6028.

Neal Thompson is a writer living in Seattle.

Also of interest: Background checks of all nursing home employees? >>

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