CCRC Settles Legal Backlash for Segregated Dining Room

A continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Virginia has agreed to pay a federal settlement and civil penalty to resolve charges that it discriminated against residents by creating segregated dining rooms for independent living residents versus those in higher levels of care.

The $350,000 settlement and $40,000 penalty, if approved by the court, would bring to an end the high-profile case that drew media scrutiny and raised questions about how CCRCs treat residents with differing health and medical conditions.

The complaint arose from a policy enacted in 2011 by Fort Norfolk Retirement Community Inc., doing business as Harbor’s Edge, a CCRC in Norfolk, Va.

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First, Harbor’s Edge banned assisted living or nursing care residents from dining rooms used by independent living residents, according to the charges later filed by residents. The CCRC then relaxed the policy slightly, to allow assisted living residents to use the dining room if they passed an assessment.

The CCRC retaliated against residents and family members who complained about these policies, the charges state.

Fort Norfolk also discriminated against people with disabilities by charging a $300 non-refundable deposit if a resident used a motorized mobility aid, and requiring those residents to purchase liability insurance and obtain permission to use the aid within the facility, according to legal documents.

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Under the terms of the settlement, announced Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Justice, Fort Norfolk does not admit any liability. The organization says it has acted in good faith and adopted the controversial policies only in response to medical incidents involving assisted living and nursing residents in the dining room.

The policies were drafted in coordination with legal counsel, the Resident Advisory Council, and Virginia health officials, Fort Norfolk states. The settlement agreement is a means of avoiding “the expense and distraction of litigation,” according to the consent decree filed in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Virginia.

The contested policies initially were enacted because the dining room became overcrowded, Harbor’s Edge leaders told The New York Times in 2012. But similar cases around the country have spurred debate about how CCRCs market themselves, the Times noted. For instance, some disgruntled residents said they suspected that CCRCs want dining rooms filled exclusively with vigorous independent living residents to appeal to prospective residents.

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There is a “fine line” that operators walk to provide as-marketed dining experiences while staying on the right side of discrimination laws, a senior living executive noted in 2012.

Written by Tim Mullaney

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