Landmark elder care protections, assisted living licensure signed into law

On Wednesday, monumental legislation that includes a series of protections for elderly and vulnerable Minnesotans and an extensive framework for the licensure of assisted living facilities was signed into law. The Elder Care and Vulnerable Adult Protection Act of 2019, authored by Senator Karin Housley (R-St. Marys Point), is the most significant reform to state law for elder care in decades. The bill passed with wide, bipartisan support before being signed into law by Governor Tim Walz.

“For more than two and a half years, we have been working with consumer advocates, families, care providers, state officials, and others on legislation to protect our seniors and most vulnerable. That hard work led to a bill of which Minnesotans can truly be proud,” said Senator Housley, the bill’s author. “This is a bipartisan bill that gives elderly and vulnerable Minnesotans the consumer protections they deserve and brings Minnesota in line with the rest of the nation in licensing our assisted living facilities. Caring for our seniors and most vulnerable must be a priority.”

The legislation, HF90, includes a comprehensive package of consumer protections designed to ensure the rights of elderly and vulnerable adults, including protections for residents against retaliation in nursing homes or assisted living facilities and a clear process for residents to appeal a termination of housing or services. The bill also enhances oversight of the state Office of Health Facility Complaints and provides needed funding for the Office of the Ombudsman of Long-Term Care. In addition, the bill contains provisions giving nursing home and assisted living residents the explicit right to use electronic monitoring devices in their rooms.

In addition, the bill includes an extensive framework for licensing assisted living facilities in Minnesota. Once the licensure system is in place, the current housing with services system will be eliminated. There are two levels of licensure, one for assisted living facilities and another for facilities with dementia care services, which are subject to additional training requirements. A Resident Quality of Care and Outcomes Improvement Task Force is created to make recommendations on how to apply safety and quality improvement practices to long-term care services.

The rights of assisted living facility residents are protected by a new consumer bill of rights and qualifications for assisted living directors and nursing home administrators are outlined in the bill. In addition, assisted living facilities will be subject to the oversight and regulatory authority of the state health department, which will have the ability to issue correction orders and fines to ensure facility standards are being upheld. Licensure requirements go into effect by August 1, 2021.

Finally, the legislation includes more than $30 million to implement assisted living licensure and allow state agencies to address recommendations made in a far-reaching legislative audit, such as enhancements to agency reporting, administrative systems, and operations. Increased funding will also allow the Office of the Ombudsman for Long-Term Care to hire additional staff.

The bill comes after an historic consensus was reached among major stakeholders and advocacy groups, including state regulators, AARP Minnesota, LeadingAge Minnesota, Minnesota Elder Justice Center, Care Providers of Minnesota, Elder Voices Family Advocates, and Alzheimer’s Association.

“In the next decade, for the first time ever, more Minnesotans will be over the age of 65 than in our public schools. This isn’t just important; it’s urgent,” said Senator Housley. “After years of hard work, the bill is now law. Our seniors cannot wait.”

Senator Karin Housley, of St. Marys Point, represents the Forest Lake area and the St. Croix River Valley in the Minnesota Senate. Senator Housley serves as chairwoman of the Family Care and Aging Committee and is an assistant majority leader.