Series will report on San Diego's assisted living industry

Published on
March 21, 2020

For my next reporting deep dive, I’ll be examining the assisted-living industry in San Diego. For now, I’m not divulging much in the way of details on the focus of my 2020 Impact Fund project, but figured a primer on assisted living would tee up future articles. 

These care venues range from six-bed homes to upscale facilities with 250 beds. They typically market themselves as less expensive and more homelike than nursing homes. 

Unlike nursing homes, the federal government doesn’t oversee assisted living facilities, which are regulated by states and usually rely on private payments. 

Nursing homes rely on Medicaid, explaining the federal government’s involvement, complete with a comparison website showing how well nursing homes provide care

The assisted living industry has largely resisted calls for federal oversight, saying greater regulatory and staffing expenses would be passed on to residents. 

Why take on this project now?

With an oncoming swell of seniors, many are eyeing assisted living, thanks to a desire to avoid nursing homes. And there’s a greater willingness among assisted living facilities to take patients who are more frail and those with cognitive issues.

Past reporting has uncovered numerous issues at assisted living facilities, including deadly neglect amid a lack of oversight and low fines. In response, California passed new laws, such as higher fines for egregious violations — and in San Diego, the Choose Well website that launched in 2017 helps compare assisted living facilities.  

The county-funded website — developed by the nonprofit Consumer Advocates for RCFE Reform — scores facilities based on quality measures, like number of citations, emergency disaster planning, and food and nutrition. 

Listed as well: capacity, pricing, inspection reports and staffing levels. At some assisted living facilities in San Diego, inspection reports blame low staffing on dementia patients wandering off premise, resident neglect and problems administering medication.

Facilities voluntarily participate in Choose Well, which acts as a starting point for families.  

“The Choose Well program recommends you use several methods for learning about the facilities you are considering,” the website states. “For instance, take a tour, eat a meal at the facility, or visit the administrator to discuss your family member’s needs.  You can also ask the facility administrator for references so that you can talk to other families who have placed a family member in the facility.” 

If a facility isn’t part of Choose Well — or is located elsewhere in California — inspection reports and other information can be found online. (Other types of care facilities regulated by the California Department of Social Services and Community Care Licensing Division are shown on this website as well.) 

The department certifies assisted living facilities, inspects them, investigates complaints, issues penalties and recommends closing facilities that rack up egregious violations. 

That’s some of the background on this topic I’ll be exploring. So far, I’ve been combing through inspection reports and other public records. The next phase of my reporting will be talking with more key stakeholders. 

Get in touch. Please reach out with ideas or note aspects of assisted living that maybe aren’t getting enough media attention, especially in San Diego. 

My goal is to uncover what’s not working — and highlight what is.