One more reason we have to get better!

By Steve Moran

These stories so depress me. They say bad things about society and entitlement . . . and yet . . . we need to be doing the right thing.

Here is the headline: Undercover testers find discrimination at assisted-living, nursing facilities.

Here Is the Story

According to the azcentral, part of the USA Today Network, the Southwest Fair Housing Council decided to do a “test of senior living communities in Arizona with respect to their ability and or willingness to accommodate elders who are deaf.   

They created a fictional deaf grandfather then called senior living communities and asked them about the “availability of qualified American Sign Language interpreters and other aids that would allow the grandparent to communicate effectively, particularly in sensitive situations involving complex paperwork or medical needs.”

In almost all cases community employees told the callers that they did not or would not offer ASL interpreters and told the callers that they could provide their own interpreters or communicate via lip reading or writing.

They have named a total of 14 senior living communities in their suit.

Unpacking . . .

First, I am sure the Southwest Fair Housing Council would dispute my characterization of them as greedy lawyers, particularly since they are a not-for-profit organization. On the other hand, they went fishing for organizations to sue. The article listed no actual senior who was discriminated against and the fact that they had to create a fictional elder suggests they could not find someone who had been treated badly.  

I predict that down the road we will discover that the senior living communities will make a payment to the Southwest Fair Housing Council and agree to provide reasonable accommodation while completeing some unspecified additional staff training.

Reasonable Accommodation

The law says that senior living organizations need to make reasonable accommodation, not maximum accommodation. I got to thinking about what exactly this means . . . in the extreme . . .

  • Someone who knows ASL on staff and reasonably available 24/7.

  • Then I got to wondering what happens if that person gets sick. So maybe you need two people.

  • Then I got to really wondering. It would seem awfully lonely to be able to only communicate via ASL and that the community could then have the obligation to provide a community of folks who were fluent in ASL.

  • And, that to be absolutely sure you met the requirement, you should have someone on staff 24/7 just in case . . .

It is pretty clear those four things above would likely go beyond reasonable accommodation, but it would seem that what constitutes reasonable accommodation is up for grabs.   

Being Practical

The law requires that if you have a deaf resident you need to provide appropriate services. Beyond the law, it is the right thing to do. I am also guessing that in reality each one of those communities actually would do a great job of meeting the needs of a deaf person. But if you asked enough team members, I am guessing you could find some who would say no we can’t and don’t. Most likely people who would not and should not be expected to know.

On the other hand, we live in a world where attorneys are trolling for business that generates fees and settlements under the guise of fairness and problem-solving. And in some cases what they are doing is righteous and fixing real problems.

Because of this reality, it is imperative that all staff be trained in how to react to these calls and that the community has real answers that are truthful about how they would make reasonable accommodation.  

Have you been hit with one of these suits or received these kinds of inquiries?