March 6, 2012 — Residents at Harbor’s Edge in Norfolk, Virginia are cheering today, celebrating the reversal of an unpopular policy prohibiting assisted living residents from eating in dining rooms reserved for independent living. The policy change was made in the face of negative publicity supporting long term residents who, after dining for years with friends and co-residents, found they could no longer eat in the same dining rooms. The threat that the policy might have violated the Fair Housing Act and/or the Americans with Disabilities Act could have also been a factor.
Judith Schapiro was one of the affected Harbor’s Edge residents who were briefly barred from the waterfront dining room called The Terrace. Although she had been enjoying meals there and in the facility’s other dining rooms, a new policy prohibited residents who had transitioned from independent living to assisted living from eating there. The policy stemmed from an influx of new independent living residents, which resulted in crowding and lack of dining room capacity. It is unclear how the other independent living residents, many of whom apparently felt crowded in their dining rooms, feel about the policy reversal.
Problems ahead in other communities?
The situation at Harbor’s Edge is indicative of several problems that baby boomers who choose to live in a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRCs) might face in the coming decades. For one, as residents enter the facility and/or transition from one type of living to another, the balance of assisted vs. independent vs. nursing residents can change. Those changes can affect capacities for various services – dining room capacity in this instance, but also in crowding for social events, availability of recreational facilities, or the number of beds available for nursing services.
Another issue is what is contractually obligated to residents vs. policy changes beyond resident control. Issues like refund policies, fee increases, services provided at no cost, etc. are usually laid out in the contract that residents sign when they enter a community. Facilities and contracts are usually regulated by state entities. However, there are other, softer areas that are controlled by policy rather than contract. Hence the importance of due diligence – before you pay an entry fee and move into a facility. Obviously the community has to have some flexibility to change its policies in light of changing circumstances. You just want to be aware up front about what kind of input residents have in those changes, what recourse you might have, and how likely changes might be.
Harbor’s Edge announced that Residents who transition from independent living to assisted living or nursing care will be allowed to take meals in any independent living dining room. However to qualify they must sign a liability waiver, have a physician sign a consent form, and pass a health screen. The policy change only affects residents who have already lived in independent living; residents who enter the community directly into assisted living will not have access to these dining rooms.
For further reference:
New York Times Blog article on the policy reversal