Following CBS4 Investigations, State Senator Proposes Changes To Colorado Assisted Living Regulations

Following several CBS4 Investigations into neglect and abuse allegations at assisted living facilities in Colorado during the pandemic, a state legislator is looking to make regulation changes that could better hold those facilities accountable.

Video Transcript

- Following several CBS4 Investigations into neglect and abuse allegations at assisted living facilities, a state legislator wants to make regulation changes that could better hold those facilities accountable. CBS former investigator Kati Weis spoke with families of assisted living residents about why those changes would make a critical difference. We want to warn you, these images might be hard to watch.

SYLVIA TORRALBA: The more time goes by and the way things are unfolding, the more angry I become.

KATI WEIS: Sylvia Torralba and Melisa Goodard were once perfect strangers, now bonded by similar losses. Their mothers both died within months of each other. Both believe their deaths could have been prevented.

MELISA GOODARD: My mom should still be here. She was only 77.

KATI WEIS: Melisa's mom was a resident at the Almost Like Home Assisted Living Center in Arvada. In late November, the facility said Melisa's mom fell from a two-foot bed. But these injuries lead Melissa to believe there's more to the story.

MELISA GOODARD: You can't get that damage from two feet. You just can't.

KATI WEIS: Her mom died three months later at a different care home.

MELISA GOODARD: And she lost her first tooth five days after the accident. And then she proceeded to lose six more teeth after that, which caused so much pain it gave-- she gave up eating and starved to death.

KATI WEIS: And State Health Department is still investigating.

SYLVIA TORRALBA: This should have never happened. Something should have been done a long time ago.

KATI WEIS: The State Health Department found Sylvia's mom was neglected at Almost Like Home back in October. Public records show staff left her mother in a recliner for up to 24 hours. She developed a severe bedsore that according to the state, staff failed to properly treat. Her mom died at home days later. The facility was fined $1,000.

SYLVIA TORRALBA: That's less than somebody's paycheck every two weeks or something. You know what I mean? It's just-- it's ridiculous. But maybe they would care more if there were higher fines.

KATI WEIS: The maximum fine the State Health Department can impose on assisted living centers every year is $2,000.

JESSIE DANIELSON: That seems like a drop in the bucket.

KATI WEIS: That's something state Senator Jessie Danielson of Wheat Ridge wants to change. She plans to introduce a bill in next year's session to make several improvements in Colorado's assisted living facilities.

JESSIE DANIELSON: I think there's a lot of ways that we could do a better job of holding assisted living facilities accountable.

KATI WEIS: We've learned assisted living facilities are much different from nursing homes. Nursing homes are considered skilled nursing facilities, requiring administrators and nursing staff be licensed. Meanwhile, administrators of assisted living facilities are not required to be licensed, and there are not licensed nurses on site, mainly unlicensed caregivers.

KATI WEIS: Assisted living administrators do not have to have a license to be in charge of one of these facilities. I think that's something that needs to change.

KATI WEIS: If owners and administrators of assisted living facilities were required to be licensed, it would be harder to open a new facility if their previous business is shut down. We reported the Triangle Cross Ranch in [? Gillson ?] was closed for allegedly withholding food, punishing and humiliating residents. Lawyers for the ranch said the staff, quote, "did nothing wrong." If the administrator of the ranch wanted to open a new assisted living facility, she would have the right to do so.

KRISTIN LINTON: I had no idea.

KATI WEIS: Kristin Linton's sister Karen Peterson was one of the residents at the ranch that was allegedly mistreated. I definitely think that there should be some health care experience of some sort.

KAREN PETERSON: That law needs to be changed. They need to be required to have licenses.

KATI WEIS: Since 2013, the state has shut down 27 assisted living facilities. That's an average of about three shutdowns a year.

MELISA GOODARD: Everything else in the state requires a license except when we put our most vulnerable older generation with them. They need no license. They can do what they want.

KATI WEIS: Melisa, Sylvia, and Kristin would like to see stricter hiring requirements for assisted living staff.

KRISTIN LINTON: Definitely a training program.

- If you applied, you got the job. It didn't matter.

KATI WEIS: A former employee at Almost Like Home who wanted to remain anonymous tells me caregivers are often still in high school and are usually only given two days of training before they work on their own.

- There needs to be classes taken. And caregivers also need to be paid better. That's A whole another thing that probably contributes to the lack of wanting to be there and care for the residents.

KATI WEIS: The employee says, because the facility was understaffed, residents were not properly fed, changed, or turned.

- I think a lot of deaths could have been prevented. And I think a lot of residents could have been more cared for and have a prolonged life.

KATI WEIS: The regulation difference between nursing homes and assisted living centers mattered in Melisa's mom's case. The facility wasn't allowed to put bedrails on the bed to prevent her mom from falling out because it's not a skilled nursing facility. But the law says, assisted living facilities are not supposed to accept or house residents that require the skilled care a nursing home could provide.

JESSIE DANIELSON: I know that there are thousands of Colorado families who depend on assisted living for the care of their loved ones. And a lot of them are high quality wonderful care. However, there are serious problems that exist.

KATI WEIS: Senator Danielson says, she's hoping next year's bill could also provide more resources for better enforcement of current regulations.

JESSIE DANIELSON: And I think it's our duty and my job in the legislature to take care of these folks in a way that they deserve.

SYLVIA TORRALBA: It makes me hopeful that somebody is willing to do something about it, to look at it, and to make changes, real changes. It's too late for our mothers, but there are all those that are left there suffering. We don't know what's going on there for them. And we want to help them.

KATI WEIS: We, again, reached out to Almost Like Home for a comment, but so far have not heard back. We'll continue to follow the progress of these proposed changes and keep you posted as we learn more. I'm Kati Weis covering Colorado first.