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Adult Family Home 'Fee Fight' Stalls in WA Legislature

May 5, 2011

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Adult family homes - small businesses caring for elderly people or those with disabilities in home-like settings - are booming in Washington. Complaints about them also have risen sharply, so much that the state is having a hard time keeping up with inspections and investigations.

The state House has passed HB 1277, which would increase oversight and allow the Legislature to raise providers' annual fees to pay for it. The Senate version, SB 5092, has stalled, however, because providers say the fee hikes will put some out of business. Ingrid McDonald, AARP Washington advocacy director, thinks that is unlikely because the homes charge between $3,000 and $7,000 a month per person.

"It is a low profit-margin business, but here's the reality: Right now, they're paying just $100 per home per year. The increase that the Legislature is calling for is $350 to $386 per bed per year."

A similar measure failed last year, but that was before a Seattle Times investigation of abuse and neglect at some adult family homes.

The homes have the option of passing the added costs on to families, McDonald says, adding that those costs don't sound out of line by the month.

"I would prefer to pay $32 more per month, knowing that I would have the peace of mind that someone would be checking up, seeing what's going on in that home, than have it continue as it is - with very spotty quality and a lot of incidences of neglect and abuse going on."

The group that represents the providers calls the fee hike "steep and dramatic," and says providers would be forced to cut back on care in order to pay it. Proponents of the increase say other types of facilities pay the full cost of inspections, while Adult Family Homes now cover only 6 percent.

A vote is expected on SB 5092 this month.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA