Let adult children help their parents find elder-care options

By Maria Duminica

Special to The Seattle Times

YOUR parents are getting older and you begin to worry about them living on their own. Are they eating regularly? Is it safe for them to drive to the grocery store? They say everything’s fine but you believe it’s time to check out assisted living or other elder-care options.

The Legislature’s House Bill 1494 will make that harder to do. This bill would regulate agencies that refer seniors to long-term care options. The legislation, which is headed to Gov. Chris Gregoire for consideration, requires that the senior or a legal guardian must acknowledge and sign off on the search with a referral agency before any meaningful research can begin.

Regulation of these agencies may be a good thing, but it would be a mistake to enact a bill that has many unintended consequences. Gov. Gregoire should veto sections of the legislation that would prevent adult children from easily helping their elderly parents find the care they need.

Unlike many businesses that provide care for seniors, there is not a history of abuse among modern referral agencies. A check with the Attorney General’s Office and other protectors of the elderly demonstrates that in many ways, HB 1494 attempts to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

Sponsors of this legislation don’t appear to understand how seniors generally come to assisted-living facilities.

Quite often it is not the senior who initiates the search for assisted-living options, but an adult child of a senior who becomes worried about a parent living alone. In love and with regard to their parent’s safety and quality of life, they look for a suitable place where their mother or father can live, receive quality care and be reasonably happy.

Today the search often starts online, but also through more traditional means. When contacted, referral services ask what geographic area is preferred, the general health of the senior, whether he or she has special needs and other questions designed to elicit enough information to provide some potentially suitable options for the family to review.

There is no charge for this service. If an assisted-living provider that the referral agency has suggested is selected, that facility pays the agency for the referral. This is virtually identical to how other referral providers such as employment agencies and property-rental agencies receive compensation from employers and landlords.

With basic information from the referral service and more detailed information acquired from touring a few providers’ facilities, the adult child can discuss options with their parent, including the positives and negatives of living in an elder-care community.

While requiring the individual patient’s consent is typical for obtaining health care from health-care providers, it is not appropriate or necessary to start the referral process. Many seniors would not be willing to do this, particularly at the beginning of information gathering.

Preventing adult children from doing the initial research and bringing options to their parents will stop many families from looking for a suitable and acceptable living arrangement until there is a crisis that the senior cannot deny. How many seniors will be hurt during this unnecessary delay?

When HB 1494 reaches her desk, Gov. Gregoire should review it carefully and remove any sections that could create unintended consequences that will make it more difficult for adult children to help their parents with what is clearly a needed service.

Maria Duminica owns and operates four adult family homes in Seattle and Bellevue and has over 20 years experience working with seniors in the Greater Seattle area.

Information in this article, originally published April 19, 2011,, was corrected April 20, 2011. A previous version of this story had the wrong House Bill number in the story summary. The correct number is House Bill 1494.


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