When making a decision of where to go for assisted living — whether for yourself or a loved one — information is critical.Fortunately, Texas ranked high for easy access to data on assisted living in government records and reports in a recent survey by A Place For Mom, a Seattle-based placement service for senior living.The state ranked 9th in the nation for its online searchable database of licensing and regulations, including information on inspections, complaints and violations at assisting living facilities, which is updated frequently. Texas tied Pennsylvania for its spot.In contrast, Mississippi requires consumers who want the same information to file a Freedom of Information request that can take up to six months to process and costs $20 per facility in printing charges. Mississippi ranked 47th for its data transparency.Assisted living facilities are regulated by the states generally with little federal oversight. The facilities provide help with bathing, dressing, meals and toileting, as well as administering medications, but they do not provide nursing care.There are more than one million Americans in assisted living, according to the American Society on Aging, with more than half of that group in their 80s. The median annual cost for care in an assisted living facility is $48,000 in the DFW area for a private, one-bedroom apartment, according to an annual survey by Genworth Financial.Consumers rely on their state’s regulatory agencies to provide information about assisted living communities and their backgrounds. But public access to assisted living records varies greatly state by state, said Josh Lucas, regulatory licensing program manager for A Place for Mom.“Each state is completely different on how they regulate the assisted living community,” he said. “Until we created our database, there was no one place where you could go to find these records.”At the website www.aplaceformom.com/assisted-living-state-licensing, there is a map of the United States. Consumers can click on each state to find information about access to state records there, as well as links to the state regulatory agencies and their reports on assisted living centers.This is particularly helpful for family members or loved ones who do not live in the same state as the person who is being placed in assisted living.For example, my 88-year-old father recently moved into an assisted living facility in Oklahoma. From the website, I could link to the Oklahoma agency that oversees his center and had immediate access to the center’s latest certification by the state, as well as information on inspections and complaints, penalties and remedies of those complaints. The data went back three years. Similar information can be found on Texas.“Texas provides a great deal of information to the consumer on their website and you can do a city or zip code search,” Lucas said. “It provides violations from the last three years at assisted living centers, as well as contact information.”States ranked ahead of Texas on the list provided more information on actions taken on violations, such as fines or license suspension, Lucas said.“Texas doesn’t list that, but you can get that through a Freedom of Information report,” he said. Turnaround time for such requests is two weeks in Texas, Lucas said.Texas also is one of the only states to apply quality ratings to assisted living providers, Lucas said. The state also is one of only 17 that have annual inspections of assisted living centers.The state has 574 Type A assisted living facilities (which require their residents to be mobile enough to be able to evacuate in an emergency) and 1,135 Type B facilities (which do not require that mobility), said Melissa Gale, spokesperson for the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS).In Tarrant County, there are 32 Type A facilities and 78 Type B assisted living centers, she said.The Texas assisted living monitoring program was created by the state legislature in 2001, Gale said. As part of that program, the Quality Reporting System (QRS) was developed as an online resource to help individuals find and compare long-term care providers, she said.While the data in the online database is helpful, Gale warns consumers not to use it as the only source of information when selecting an assisted living facility.“The QRS is good starting point, but it is just a snapshot in time,” she said. “We also recommend you visit the place several times at different times of day and night. Talk to the staff, administrators and residents. Ask them about the quality of care, the staff, the activities.”In addition to an annual inspection to make sure the facility is following regulations, DADS inspectors investigate every complaint that is launched to the agency and every self-reported incident by the facility, Gale said.If you have an aging parent or loved one, my advice is to start doing your homework now to identify a few options for when you need it.“A lot of time consumers have a quick need where they have to find a community immediately,” Lucas said. Having that go-to list of places can make such a big transition easier on everybody.
Teresa McUsic’s column runs Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net