Assisted Living Facilities and Wheelchair-Bound Residents

Assisted Living Facilities and Wheelchair-Bound Residents

As their name indicates, assisted living facilities operate with the intent to aid those who no longer have the physical or mental capacity to handle their everyday tasks. These residents can include those with dementia, those recovering from hospitalizations or surgery and need rehabilitation, or those who lack the function to care for themselves, and this includes those who are bound to wheelchairs.

In a study on mobility in residential care facilities, 70 percent of facilities reported that 10 percent of their residents were confined to a bed or chair, and another 12 percent of facilities stated that 11 to 24 percent of residents were confined to a bed or a chair.

Wheelchairs can be difficult for both the individual in the chair and those caring for them, and a common misconception is that assisted living facilities do not accept residents who are wheelchair-bound. Some facilities may not, but that is not the precedent. Typically, assisted living facilities require the following for their residents:

  • That they be somewhat “ambulatory”, meaning that they are able to get around on their own, or
  • That they are able to be transferred (such as from bed to chair) with the assistance of one other person.

Keep in mind that unlike nursing homes, assisted living facilities operate under state law, which can result in a wide variance in policy. That does not necessarily mean that wheelchair-bound residents are excluded from assisted living facilities, but it can be difficult to accommodate these patients, particularly if the facilities have limited staff and lack the technology or equipment to assist in patient transfer (as improper patient handling is very dangerous for residents and employees alike).

This topic has been present in the news in recent weeks, as the Fair Housing Justice Center has employed professional actors to investigate whether assisted living facilities are discriminatory against wheelchair users, and has filed a federal lawsuit against certain facilities on the grounds of discrimination and violation of the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and other federal laws.

In a newsletter published online, senior staff attorney at Mobilization for Justice Jota Borgmann stated, “As soon as a resident begins to use a wheelchair, the adult home claims they are inappropriate for assisted living and sends them to a nursing home.”

Going forward, no facility should sacrifice safety in the name of preventing lawsuits or admitting all who apply. However, issuing a blanket ban on wheelchair-bound residents is not the answer to this problem. It provides a clear avenue for discrimination claims, and there are a multitude of reasons for one to be in a wheelchair, with many wheelchair users being quite capable of caring for themselves in most areas. Instead, it would be best for facilities to reassess their policies, their procedures, and their equipment. Every assisted living facility resident and employee should be safe, and inadequate training, poorly-conceived procedures, and a lack of necessary equipment is dangerous for everyone, regardless of whether they are in a wheelchair.

About Caitlin Morgan

Caitlin Morgan specializes in insuring assisted living facilities and nursing homes and can assist you in providing insurance and risk management services for this niche market. Give us a call to learn more about our programs at 317.575.4440.