Washington Post Analysis Shows 30% Spike in Lift-Assist Calls from Senior Living

An analysis of 911 call data by the Washington Post shows that lift-assist emergency responses have increased 30% in recent years at assisted living and other senior care settings, the newspaper reported.

That spike is three times faster than the increase in overall 911 call volume seen nationwide between the same time period of 2019 through 2022, the article states, and the increase in emergency responses to assisted living, nursing homes and independent living units is burdening local emergency medical services (EMS) and fire departments nationwide.

In the article, the Post notes how the rise of lift-assist calls handled by first responders and not a community’s staff “unfairly burden taxpayers and occupy firefighters with nonemergencies that should be handled by staff at facilities.”


The Post’s analysis looked at multiple locations in Illinois, a hotbed for the issue at present. In Illinois, lift assists have accounted for 1 in 20 of all 911 calls responded to by local fire departments and is the highest proportion of any state, the article states.

The Post outlined how a facility in Rockford, Illinois had called for “noninjury lift assists” 233 times in 2023, triple the number of calls seen in 2021. The community in Rockford accounted for the highest number of 911 calls in 2023 for the city of 150,000 people approximately an hour west of Chicago.

The Post claims companies seek to avoid perceived risk and expenses tied to helping a resident off the floor, from injury to staff or potential personal injury of the resident. Senior living operators in the past have bemoaned the increased litigation risk their communities face from various aspects of the business, from personal injury claims to class-action lawsuits.


Operators have also noted a rise in resident acuity across various levels of care, as Senior Housing News has reported.

In response to the increase in fall-assist calls, some local governments have taken action to impose fees on communities that commonly call 911 for lift assists to aid residents, but the Post reporting shows that industry and state associations are balking at municipalities implementing fees. In one instance cited by the Post, the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA) characterized a town’s attempt to impose lift-assist fees as “illogical” and “illegal.”

Argentum President and CEO James Balda said in response to the recent reporting that seniors “have equal access to lift assistance and emergency services, irrespective of the residential setting they choose.”

“As residents of assisted living communities, seniors are entitled to the same rights and services as any individual living in a private residence. Our goal is to ensure the safety of the seniors we care for, including contacting emergency services when necessary to provide proper medical evaluations,” Balda said in an email to SHN. “Our communities are the homes of seniors, and as such they are entitled to the same services as any other taxpayer.”

According to the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA NCAL), more than 800,000 residents nationwide live in assisted living communities. 

ASHA President and CEO David Schless said the Post’s reporting “failed to get to the essence of the issue,” the country’s aging demographics, specifically the U.S. population of those over 85 years-old is projected to quadruple by 2040.

“Importantly, fee-for-service charges for emergency service calls to assisted living or other residential care facilities when these services are made available to other multifamily households without charge, constitutes unreasonable and unlawful discrimination against disabled seniors. If the seniors residing in assisted living had remained in their single-family or multifamily residences, and did not move to assisted living, they would still require emergency services – but would not be penalized with a charge,” Schless wrote in a letter to the editor.

The changes in demographic tides and rising acuity have forced operators to confront a new operating environment regardless of market dynamics.

This is just the latest report from the Washington Post that puts senior living operators in the hot seat. Earlier this year, the Post investigated elopements resulting in deaths at communities nationwide, sparking congressional hearings on resident safety and affordability, and drawing pushback from providers and industry associations.
In recent years, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic, many senior living operators are integrating technology to combat resident falls and to improve resident care.

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