Twin Dangers for Senior Living: Government Neglect and Interference

Chances are, many people across the senior care industry tuned into the Presidential debate earlier this week, eager to hear from the two candidates side-by-side on stage for the first time this year.

Monday night’s widely watched debate lingered on many attendees’ minds the next day at the LeadingAge Illinois 2016 Senior Living Conference in Lisle, Illinois. It certainly was top of mind for Argentum President and CEO James Balda, who noticed one subject in particular that was not discussed by Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton or Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump.

“I don’t think there was a single mention of long-term care,” Balda said during his keynote address at the conference. The perceived absence of long-term care from this national stage struck a chord with him, and, in his mind, suggests a larger problem for the senior care industry as a whole.

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Right now, approximately 835,200 seniors live in senior living communities, Balda explained. By 2025, that number could rise to approximately 1.1 million. On top of that, Balda said, 70% of seniors 65 years old and older require some form of long-term care.

“This is probably one of the biggest domestic policy challenges facing this country since the New Deal at least, if not ever,” Balda said. “[But] policy makers don’t seem to really want to think about it.”

The long-term care industry is facing numerous challenges, from a lack of affordable options to an impending workforce crisis and a misinformed public.

“Everybody knows we should do something sooner rather than later,” Balda said. “But everybody waits until the last minute. Policymakers are no different.”

If policymakers don’t begin to tackle long-term care issues nationwide, the senior living industry is going to have to step up to the plate. In fact, now is the perfect time for the industry to map its own course for the next 10 years, Balda said.

“If policymakers won’t do it, we as an industry are going to have to,” Balda said.

Avoiding federal regulations at all costs

All the while, senior living must strive to remain unregulated on the federal level, Balda said, claiming that over-regulation would be extremely detrimental to the industry’s residents and reputation.

“There shouldn’t be federal oversight over senior living,” he said. “You need flexibility, you need it local, you need it in the communities. And that’s why the state regulatory environment and [Argentum’s] partners are so critical.”

Still, there are “countless” agencies at the federal level that touch senior living every day, as well as the lives of senior living residents, Balda said. Balda is frank about bringing an outsider perspective to senior living, saying he “didn’t know what senior living was 18 months ago,” when he joined Argentum after working in the restaurant industry for years. But even in his short time leading the provider association, he has come to see federal overregulation as a looming threat.

“There is sort of this opportunity for a perfect storm, where the [feds] could look at oversight of senior living,” Balda said. To prevent that from happening, senior living should keep an eye on the media, looking out especially for news stories that shed a negative light on the industry.

“Accidents will happen, falls will happen—but it’s stories of bad actors in the industry that really put the rest of the industry at risk [for increased federal oversight],” Balda said. “What worries me, particularly with social media, is that something like that will occur in one of your districts and there will be talk of federal oversight for senior living.”

One group at the federal level that could possibly intervene in senior living is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Balda said. At the moment, the group is actively taking a look at seniors’ issues, but those that are more on the financial side of the equation.

“What worries me is there’s an opportunity for them to come in senior living,” Balda explained, citing disclosure statements and arbitration. “It could be that we’re on their radar in the future, [and that’s] more of a risk than an opportunity.”

Residents move into senior living because they want choice, dignity and some independence, Balda said. An over-regulated industry will turn senior living into an institutional setting, which is exactly what seniors don’t want.

“If there’s anything that would negatively impact the lives of your residents, I think that’s it: the institutionalizing of senior living,” Balda told conference attendees. “We need to make sure that we keep all of the arguments for federal oversight off the table.”

Written by Mary Kate Nelson

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