Op-EdOpinion

WILLIAMS/DAVIS: D.C. Council Must Not Support Discrimination Against Seniors with Dementia

The D.C. Council legislative bill B22-0689 is discriminatory against older adults and should be removed from the agenda for the Council Committee on Health’s June 22 hearing. It is unacceptable for any of the 13 Council members to support this measure.

It is critical that residents of the District reach out to the chairman and every Council member to remind them that discriminating against seniors will not be tolerated.

The bill prohibits seniors with moderate to severe dementia and seniors on hospice care from being admitted to an assisted living residence. In its current form, the bill marginalizes the most vulnerable and denies them access to the appropriate level of needed care. For those who develop Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia after admission, the bill would leave “memory care” units in assisted living facilities unregulated and residents without protection.

Long-term care is based on how much help seniors need to do various activities of daily life. Assisted living is an important part of the long-term care system of services available to District residents, helping people maintain more of their independence. Assisted living serves those who might need a little help from professionals with activities such as dressing, bathing, meal preparation or reminders to take medication, but who do not need the more comprehensive care found in nursing homes.

In addition, research shows that the social interaction found in assisted living residences can help slow the progression of dementia and prevent depression due to social isolation. Restricting persons who have moderate to severe dementia from accessing assisted living inappropriately forces them into nursing homes or to seek these vital services in another state away from their families, friends, neighborhoods and faith communities. Promoting legislation that forces lifelong residents out of the District is wrong.

The bill also attempts to negatively alter the District’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, which currently offers services and consumer advocates who work to resolve concerns on behalf of older residents and others in long-term care facilities. Under B22-0689, the program would become an enforcement arm of the Department of Health. This is contrary to the federally mandated, resident-focused mission of the program and would be in conflict with the Older Americans Act requirements.

Additionally, the bill attempts to strip away a resident’s right to speak to the ombudsman anonymously by requiring the ombudsman to violate confidentiality by notifying the target of a complaint with the identity of the complainant, leaving residents vulnerable to possible retaliation.

The District needs legislation that increases access to affordable assisted living to promote a long and healthy life as a part of a community. This legislation is not only bad for assisted living residents, it’s terrible for all District residents who want to continue to age in the community they call home.

Call 1-844-259-9349 to reach your Council member. Let them know the importance of quality assisted living facilities and demand that this bill is pulled from the June 22 health committee agenda.

Williams and Davis are state president and state director, respectively, of AARP District of Columbia.

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