Legislature adopts sweeping reforms for senior care homes

Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, chair of the House Health and Human Services committee, presents her senior care bill and answers questions during a committee meeting in February. Rep. John LaHood (picture at right), R-Valdosta, operates senior care homes and was a co-sponsor of the reform bill. BEN GRAY FOR THE AJC

A bill to improve staffing, training and accountability in Georgia’s senior care homes is headed to Gov. Brian Kemp after the House on Wednesday approved a Senate version of HB 987.

The House unanimously signed off on the Senate’s version of the bill, which added requirements for handling COVID-19 to the bill’s reforms of the senior care industry.

“I am so proud of Georgia’s House and Senate for making the necessary changes to ensure the safety of our seniors who choose to live in assisted living facilities,” said Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, the lead sponsor of the bill.

Kemp has said he strongly supports the legislation, which will bring dramatic changes to the state’s assisted living communities and large personal care homes. Memory care units would have to get certified and have more staff, directors would have to be licensed and homes that break the rules would face higher fines. Assisted living homes would be required to have nurse staffing. Homes would also have to disclose financial problems to residents and families.

Plus, senior care homes must plan for a pandemic, have a short-term supply of personal protective gear, test residents and staff and notify residents and families of an outbreak.

Cooper drafted the bill to help prevent the types of neglect and abuse in senior care homes that were exposed last year by a series in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Advocates applauded the Senate’s move to add the COVID-19 requirements.

Most of the bill relates to assisted living and personal care homes with 25 beds or more. But the additional COVID-19 requirements would also apply to the state’s nursing homes.

“Georgia’s seniors gain new protections in this landmark legislation,” said Kathy Floyd, executive director of the Georgia Council on Aging.