In the Press

Some Senior Living Facilities Are Discriminating on the Basis of Disability

While the transition from one level of care to another in a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) may be advertised as seamless, moving to a higher level of care could mean losing access to privileges and amenities you once enjoyed.

Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) sound like a great idea, and in many ways they are. They offer residents access to the entire residential continuum -- from independent housing to assisted living to round-the-clock nursing services -- under one "roof." Residents pay an entry fee and an adjustable monthly rent in return for the guarantee of care for the rest of their life.

But while the transition from one level of care to another may be advertised as seamless, anyone considering a CCRC should be aware that moving to a higher level of care could mean losing access to privileges and amenities they once enjoyed and took for granted. Depending on its policies, a CCRC may mandate separate facilities and activities for those requiring different levels of care. Although such restrictions may be illegal, they are not uncommon.

For example, the New York Times recently reported on the case of Ann Clinton, a resident of a CCRC in Huntsville, Alabama, who found herself barred from her cherished bingo games when she moved to the facility's nursing unit while rehabilitating after back surgery. 

Clinton and her husband moved to the CCRC in 2012, paying a deposit of $351,424, and about $4,600 a month in fees. Mr. Clinton shifted to the assisted facility unit and then to the nursing unit, where he died in September 2014. Through it all, Ms. Clinton, 80, looked forward to her weekly bingo game with friends and other residents of the CCRC's independent living unit.

After her back surgery, Ms. Clinton was still able to attend the games using her motorized scooter. But to her shock and surprise, she was eventually barred from them because she was living in the nursing unit. 

This isn't the first time the Times reported on such a policy. In 2011 it covered the controversy that erupted when a CCRC in Norfolk, Virginia, declared that a popular waterfront dining room was off-limits to those in the assisted living and nursing units, and could be used only by independent living residents. Suddenly longtime friends and even some married couples could no longer eat together because they lived in separate parts of the facility. After residents contacted a lawyer and the news media, the CCRC reversed its policy.

The same thing had happened to the Clintons, according to the Times. After Mr. Clinton moved to the CCRC's assisted living wing, he was denied admission to the main dining room to eat with his wife, who was still in the independent living section. The facility eventually changed its policy, allowing assisted living residents to use the dining room if independent living residents invited them. 

The CCRC has since suspended the bingo game that Ms. Clinton was barred from attending. Ms. Clinton's son says he plans to file a lawsuit on his mother's behalf and is looking for a lawyer.

Attorneys who advocate for the elderly believe that excluding residents based on the level of care they require violates anti-discrimination laws like the Fair Housing Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act. Admittedly, CCRCs may be trying to segregate residents in the belief that some residents would prefer not to have contact with those who are more incapacitated. 

"But that's why we have anti-discrimination laws," Eric Carlson, an attorney with the National Senior Citizens Law Center, told the Times. "You don't want to capitulate to people's prejudices."