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Polis Signs Bill: Assisted Living Facilities In Colorado Can Now Face $10,000 Fines For Negligence, Mistreatment

DENVER (CBS4) - Thursday, Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill aiming to better protect vulnerable Coloradans from neglect in assisted living facilities. This, following a series of CBS4 investigations over the last year and a half uncovering alleged abuse and neglect in some assisted living centers, and a lack of state regulations holding those facilities accountable.

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CBS4 found that assisted living facilities only faced $2,000 maximum fines a year, no matter how many violations the facility received, nor how egregious those violations were.

Alternatively, nursing homes can face tens of thousands of dollars in fines annually.

SB22-154, signed into law Thursday, increases the cap on fines to $10,000 per violation. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Jessie Danielson (D-Wheat Ridge), says that cap will give the state health department one more tool to deter negligence against assisted living residents.

"We've seen evidence that there are a number of facilities that just calculate the small fee into their annual budget, and basically what that means is for $2,000 per year, they are able to rack up any number of cases of abuse or neglect. That's just wrong. Some of the cases are very, very egregious. Some of them have even resulted in death," Danielson said. "We believe that the threat of a larger fine will result in fewer cases of abuse and neglect in older Coloradans."

For example, CBS4 Investigates found at an assisted living facility in Arvada, a woman died in 2020, after the state health department said staff neglected her. The facility was only fined $1,000 in that case.

Opponents of the bill believe the $10,000 cap is too high and could be a burden on assisted living centers.

"I think most of us are in agreement that the $2,000 cap that's currently in regulation is probably too low, that probably needs to be updated. Maybe to $5,000," said Janet Cornell, board member for the Colorado Assisted Living Association, and an assisted living consultant. "(The bill) doesn't specify what violations, so if you have a minor infraction, and perhaps the surveyor doesn't like you, they can whack you with the $10,000 fines. So it's not a well-written bill. There's a lot of loopholes."

Cornell believes lawmakers should set a tiered approach for fines, so assisted living facilities facing minor infractions aren't fined too much. She says the health department often requires facilities to pay a consultant for assistance when they are found to be non-compliant, which can often hike up hefty costs.

"They're already paying me $10,000 to be their consultants. So there is their fine," Cornell said. "Those are fines that are applicable, but not just to go into the pocket of the state health department."

But Danielson says she and her staff analyzed other states that already have more stringent regulations, and believes the bill won't negatively impact good actors.

"Colorado really has an obligation to protect older Coloradans, and we're really behind the ball in this way. Many other states have taken the initiative to implement similar regulations or even stricter regulations on assisted living facilities, and we've seen no evidence that it has negatively impacted the industry," Danielson said. "What it does is prevent future further significant abuse of the people that we have living in these places."

Several advocacy groups backed the bill. Bob Murphy, Executive Director of AARP Colorado, says the bill is "common sense."

"We certainly don't think you can put a price on safety for older Coloradans," Murphy said. "If a facility can't meet these very elementary standards, then maybe that fine is appropriate."

Julie Reiskin, Executive Director of the Colorado Cross Disability Coalition, agrees. Her staff met with the governor's office last week to advocate for the bill.

"This bill is a statement about who we value. Do we value our elders? Do we value people who might need assistance with their day-to-day activities, or don't we?" Reiskin said. "It's really that simple to me. Either we do or we don't."

The bill will also require more training for assisted living operators and creates more restrictions on the involuntary discharge of residents. To read the full bill, click here.

Upon signing the bill, Polis released this statement Thursday, which says in part, "this bill takes steps towards increasing accountability, oversight, and compliance within the assisted living industry so that Coloradans can feel confident that their loved ones will receive the appropriate and dignified care we all deserve."

 

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