Pilot Guest Editorial

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Assisted living vital for Iowa's seniors

My father is 82 years old, my mother is 77. Fortunately they are both in good health and live independently, but the day may come when they will need some support, such as prepared meals or home health care. Like many other Iowans with aging parents, I want to be sure that I can count on the quality and safety of those services.

That's why I've taken not only a professional but also a personal interest in legislation affecting health services for dependent adults. If you are 65 or older, have parents who are aging, or have a family member with a disability, you should take an interest too.

During the past 10 years, adult day care and assisted living programs have grown rapidly in Iowa. These programs are experiencing increasing demand as more Iowans get older and begin to require additional support to maintain their health and quality of life. Iowa needs a fair and consistent system of regulations and oversight for adult day care and assisted living, in order to protect consumers and to ensure that there are adequate services available to the people who need them.

Last week I visited Milestones Adult Day Center in Cedar Rapids, and Wesley Acres, a long-term care center in Des Moines. Both of these are model facilities that demonstrate the best in care and services for aging Iowans.

One man who lived at Wesley Acres said, "There is a spirit of community and care here...no one needs to worry about being alone, left out, or forgotten." This is what we all hope would be the case in every group care center.

During my visits, I met with residents, family members, administrators and staff to discuss the new legislation recently signed by the Governor that will strengthen consumer protections and clarify standards for adult day services and assisted living. As the rules are being worked out to put these new laws into practice, we need to strike a balance among the interests of consumers, service providers and the public. We need to bring everyone to the table to create the best possible services.

Until the passage of legislation this year, Iowa had no uniform guidelines for what services could be legally provided by adult day care. Also, as assisted living programs have grown, additional public policy changes were needed to better define the scope of services offered and to better protect consumers. People did not always know what they were buying when they signed on for adult day care or assisted living services. In some instances, people moved into assisted living centers believing they could reside there for the rest of their lives, regardless of health needs. When the facility could not adequately and safely provide for their health care, they were required to move. Obviously this created great stress and confusion for the residents and their families.

This new legislation will clarify the standards and expectations for services provided by assisted living facilities. It will help residents and their families know what to expect from their assisted living service provider, and make better-informed decisions when choosing the right facility with the right level of service. This legislation will help to better educate the public and create more accurate expectations for the level of care that can be provided at each type of care facility. We need to provide a broad range of care for a broad range of needs, so that all Iowans can have as many choices as possible for quality health care and a comfortable, dignified life.

It is likely that you or someone in your family may someday need this type of care, and we all have a responsibility to make sure that people have the options they need for safe, quality care. I encourage you to learn more about the options available in your area. For more information, visit the Iowa Family Caregiver Support Program web site at www.iowafamily caregiver.org or the Department of Elder Affairs at www.state.ia.us/elderaffairs. The Department of Elder Affairs can also be reached at 800-532-3213.

Sally Pederson writes a monthly column on Iowa social issues for Pilot-Tribune readers.