By Beau Evans
Legislation to boost regulations for elderly care facilities in Georgia was injected with additional rules for reporting coronavirus infections in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities as it advanced in the Georgia Senate Tuesday.
House Bill 987, which is a priority for top House leaders in the 2020 legislative session, aims to tighten rules on assisted-living and long-term care facilities for seniors.
Its sponsor, Rep. Sharon Cooper, filed the bill following reports of elder neglect, poor care and financial troubles in some facilities in the state.
As it cleared the House in late February, the bill would bolster training for staff members in elderly care facilities and increase the number of staff who would have to be on site at any given time to watch over residents. It would also up the fines for violations or if a facility causes a resident’s death.
“Georgia has had our problems,” said Cooper, R-Marietta. “They have been numerous, and they have occurred in many assisted-living [facilities] and nursing homes.”
On Tuesday, lawmakers in the Senate tweaked the bill to add extra requirements for elderly care facilities to publicly report when residents or staff test positive for coronavirus. Facilities would also have to keep seven days-worth of protective supplies like masks and gowns and have every resident and staff member tested within 90 days of the bill’s enactment.
Seniors living in nursing homes and other elderly care facilities in Georgia have been hit hard by the virus, accounting for nearly half of the state’s total 2,529 deaths as of Tuesday afternoon.
Gov. Brian Kemp has focused particularly on boosting testing and sanitizing measures for seniors in recent months, including deploying hundreds of Georgia National Guard members to clean elderly care facilities and test residents.
In recent months, the state has tested every resident and most staff in nursing homes, according to Kemp’s office. Assisted-living and personal care facilities have seen 77% of their residents and 57% of staff tested so far.
At a hearing Tuesday, Senate Regulated Industries Committee Chairman Bill Cowsert said the additions to Cooper’s bill related to coronavirus should ensure elderly care facilities are prepared for the next time Georgia faces a fast-spreading disease or viral pandemic.
“We want them to have a plan, have the equipment on hand,” said Cowsert, R-Athens. “We want them for this immediate problem to test.”
The bill passed unanimously out of Cowsert’s committee on Tuesday. It now heads to the Senate floor for a full chamber vote.
Besides the new provisions on coronavirus, Cooper’s bill would require at least one direct-care staff member for every 15 senior residents during waking hours, and one for every 20 residents at night.
It would also require a licensed or registered professional nurse to be on site at assisted-living facilities for a certain amount of time each week and require all staff to undergo training in elderly and disabled-adult care.
The bill also includes a slate of rules to tighten staffing standards and training for memory care centers, which provide services for people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other cognitive conditions.
Cooper stressed Tuesday that she drafted the bill with input from Rep. John LaHood, R-Valdosta, who owns and operates several senior-living facilities. She called the bill a compromise measure between health-care professionals and elderly-care industry executives.
“This was a give-and-take bill,” she said.