Garrison Creek Lodge visit plan sparks questions

The assisted living facility's new service is greeted with a mix of praise and concern.

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WALLA WALLA -- This month Garrison Creek Lodge in Walla Walla is launching a home visit program for area senior citizens. The service, titled "You Don't Have to Live with Us for Us to Help," is free for all and includes medical evaluations, safety checks and services coordination, officials at the senior-living community say.

The concept of a for-profit organization offering such a program for non-paying clients is novel, experts in the field of senior care say.

While every community benefits from more sets of concerned eyes on all seniors, there are key components to consider about home visit programs, which are more typically provided as a fee-for-service.

"I am absolutely for programs that help seniors or anyone, we all need help," said Kathy Stevenson of Southeast Washington Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program based in Walla Walla. "It's so difficult to find resources."

That said, any such endeavor needs to be staffed with an adequate ratio of trained professionals, she noted.

As well, a company with such an ambitious community outreach must consider the impact on its paying residents, she said. "There could be a liability if they quickly get overwhelmed. That would be my concern as an advocate for the patients in the facility. The reality is, something has to get cut somewhere."

The marriage within a company between marketing and a free service program could set the stage for conflict of interest, said Louise Ryan, director of the long-term care ombudsman program in Washington state.

"It's potentially tricky about how they gain entrance into someone's house, how they go about getting consent...there are potential problems by taking a caregiving role without a process."

In home health-care provider agencies, state licensing provides some safeguards and helps eliminate duplication of services, Ryan said. As well, a senior-living company would have to be wary of exerting undue influence on those it serves off its campus. "It raises ethical issues about choice."

While the program model is new to him, it seems reasonable to expect success, said Gary Weeks, president and CEO of Washington Health Care Association. "The volunteers are all coming from the facility, they're all trained in basic, long-term care, they would be experienced with the senior population."

It would be an ideal situation for many families to have qualified volunteer visitors to make sure a senior loved one is getting proper services. And Garrison Creek's corporate parent, Emeritus Senior Living, has a right to market itself, as long as no one feels coerced to go into its facility by receiving the home visit service, he explained.

"I would be inclined to say it sounds like a reasonable service. They're all certified, they have liability insurance."

Emeritus enjoys a solid reputation and will have a way to evaluate the program, Weeks said. "If it doesn't work, they'll drop it."

In the meantime, the home visit program seems like a worthwhile experiment the community at large will want to watch, he added.

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