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Thursday, October 02, 2008

“Atria Bills” Signed That will Stop Price-Gouging of Seniors and Increase Emergency Preparedness

Last winter, residents of Atria Covell ended up with duel complaints. First, for the second time in as many years, the seniors, most of whom are on fixed incomes, were hit with large rent increases. To make matters worse, a serious winter storm knocked out power and showed the Atria facility to have an appalling lack of emergency preparedness.

In a rally and protests it became very clear that Atria was extremely fortune that no one was seriously hurt.

In a rally last January, 30 residents of the Atria Covell Gardens community protested both the rental increase and the living conditions.

The most appalling story was a woman who lived in the facility with her husband who was on oxygen. After losing electricity, no one in administration contacted them to find out what their needs were. She in the end had to call the pulmonary company that supplied them with the oxygen and at 10:30 at night he brought out canisters that supplied the oxygen for purposes of travel or other issues of mobility for a two hour period.

According to her, two of the administrators,
"instructed me on how to use the portable tanks. But they also... said that they would never be able to help me again. Because they are not allowed to... The AL's cannot help you with oxygen."
This week hundreds of bills have finally made their way from the legislature to the desk of the governor. For many of these bills, it is their untimely demise as the Governor has unilaterally decided not to sign them.

However, the good news for elderly residents of California’s assisted living facilities celebrated Sunday as Governor Schwarzenegger signed two new consumer protection bills.

Barbara Turner is a resident of Atria Valley View in Walnut Creek, a facility similar to the one in Davis. Like Davis they also suffered through a power outage, theirs lasted three days.
“Last year, I received an 8½% rent increase, and other residents suffered through a 3-day power outage. We’re pleased that the legislature and the Governor have taken an interest in our issues, and we hope they will continue to protect seniors in the future.”
According to a release from the Campaign to Improve Assisted Living:
Both pieces of legislation address resident complaints about Atria Senior Living’s practices. Seniors residing in multiple Atria facilities have complained of rent increases that far exceed the cost of living, while some in Davis and Carmichael suffered blackouts this winter. Atria residents normally receive notices about rent increases by the beginning of November, and increases are effective at the beginning of January. Advocates say they will be watching to see how Atria responds to the new laws.
Assembly Speaker Karen Bass sponsored the legislation.
“It’s like the wild west with many assisted living operators. They can charge whatever they want, and there’s very little accountability for the quality of care. Both of these new laws are an important first step to holding them accountable.”
Speaker Bass’s AB 2370 will give assisted living residents information on past rent increases before they move into a facility.

Meanwhile our own Assemblywoman Lois Wolk put together her own bill, AB 749, that will require Atria and other assisted living facilities to identify a backup source of power in the event of a blackout, and improve other emergency preparedness requirements.

Assemblywoman Wolk:
“Residential care facilities provide a vital service to California’s seniors. Yet, this is a largely unregulated industry. Within the past year, a winter storm left a facility in my district without power for over two days. They didn’t have heat, lights, elevators, or medical devices dependent on electricity. My bill will provide additional protection for residents of these facilities.”
The bill requires facilities like Atria to have a comprehensive emergency plan that will ensure that the facility can remain self-reliant for at least 72 hours. That plan must be made available to both residents and local emergency responders.

Davis' Assemblywoman Lois Wolk said:
"I worked with the senior residents, the senior home advocates, and the Governor's administration to come up with a solution that provides the security and peace of mind the residents deserve, without placing an unreasonable bureaucratic burden on the facility."
Gary Passmore of the Congress of California Seniors:
“These bills are an important step in protecting vulnerable seniors in assisted living facilities. Atria residents spoke up about these problems, and the legislature responded.”
While it is easy to be cynical of government, here is a situation where there were key and glaring problems facing our seniors who were vulnerable to price gouging by private care facilities and vulnerable to lack of state regulations requiring things like emergency preparedness and back up power generation. Here is one case at least where the leadership in this state stepped up and came up with a solution to these problems. For the resident of places like Atria Covell Gardens it means piece of mind both in terms of their financial situation but also in terms of basic public safety.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting