According to the National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL), currently, around one million American seniors, age 62 or older, live in some sort of senior housing community. That number is expected to double by the year 2030 and of all federally subsidized households, 68% are seniors.
The Fair Housing Act provides a “Housing for Older Persons” exemption where a facility or housing community can be exclusively occupied by residents 55 years of age or older, who have no minor children. While this is good for senior citizens, it requires landlords, managers, and facility administrators to operate with special care and attention to the unique needs of their senior residents.
Various federal laws require housing providers to make reasonable accommodations or reasonable modifications to the property for residents with disabilities. Many times, these types of facilities and communities are required to make these accommodations and modifications to their units in order to better care for and provide the best possible services to their residents and ensure their safety and well-being.
Fair Housing accommodations often intersect with customer service. Always, the main goal is to provide safe, affordable, and stable housing. There are many cases where accommodation or modification is made in order to serve the needs of the resident, although possibly not legally required. Along the same line, there are times when an accommodation or modification is legally required in order to continue to be in compliance with the Fair Housing Act. Determining when those actions cross the line from good customer service to being legally bound to make a change is not always easy and, because reasonable accommodations are a legal requirement, there needs to be adequate policies and procedures in place and consistent documentation that procedures are being followed.
Here are a few things to think about when it comes to reasonable accommodations and reasonable modifications.
Property and Environmental Modifications
The majority of unit and property modifications in these facilities and communities are concerning accessibility and reducing the occurrence of slips and falls.
Shellpoint.org states the following statistics:
- When an elderly person falls, their hospital stays are almost twice longer than those of elderly patients who are admitted for any other reason.
- The risk of falling increases with age and is greater for women than men.
- Annually, falls are reported by one-third of all people over the age of 65.
- Two-thirds of those who fall will do so again within six months.
- Falls are the leading cause of death from injury among people 65 and older.
- Approximately 9,500 deaths in older Americans are associated with falls each year.
- More than half of all fatal falls involve people 75 or over.
- Among people aged 65 to 69, one out of every 200 falls results in a hip fracture. That number increases to one out of every 10 for those aged 85 and older.
- One-fourth of seniors who fracture a hip from a fall will die within six months of the injury.
- The most profound effect of falling is the loss of functioning associated with independent living.
These statistics show just how important it is to prevent slips and falls for the senior population.
Fair Housing Insiders suggests the following modifications can have a big impact on the number of falls:
- Installing multiple shower bars throughout the entire bathroom, not just the shower. Bathrooms are notoriously dangerous. According to the Center for Disease Control, 81% of all bathroom accidents are slips and falls. It is not difficult to understand why. Hard materials, condensation that creates slick surfaces, floor mats that can shift unexpectedly, just to name a few.
- 68.3% of bathroom accidents happen around the tub or shower. While it can be very costly to replace standard tubs with walk-in showers, tub cut-outs are an easy and affordable modification to convert a standard tub into a step-in shower in order to minimize the risk of falls.
Environmental allergies are a common issue and older adults are among the group of people with the highest occurrence of fatal allergic reactions.
Fair Housing Insiders suggests considering the following in relation to allergies:
- Replace carpeting with non-slip hard flooring. Allergens love carpeting and it turns out that hard flooring is more cost-effective than carpeting because it is more durable. Allergy associations, such as the American Lung Association and the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America (AAFA), suggest avoiding all types of wall-to-wall carpeting in favor of hard flooring.
Mental disabilities are just as important a factor as physical ones and yet, at times, can be much more difficult to diagnose and understand. There are a few things to consider when working with a senior who may have a mental disability.
- In unassisted senior living communities and units, you must consider if the mental disability prohibits the resident from being able to comprehend and adhere to the terms of the lease agreement or house rules? Especially in facilities where the residents live in close quarters, what one resident does will have a significant impact on others.
- There are circumstances of mental distress that may not be directly related to mental disability and are unavoidable, such as side effects from a medication, a change in medications, or a personal or medical issue. In these cases, as much as possible, working with the resident to resolve any underlying issues would in turn allow the resident to experience housing stability.
- While the usual rule is to wait until the resident asks for help, many times, residents with mental disabilities will not request assistance or reasonable accommodation. It is important to be aware of what is typical for the resident so you are able to recognize any differences in behavior or patterns and provide a reasonable accommodation if needed.
- Offer mental health first aid training to your staff so they can be as prepared as possible for these types of scenarios.
- If possible, have a mental health counselor on staff to see to the mental health needs of your residents and offer continued education training to your staff.
Meal Plans and Food Accommodations
Many of these facilities and communities offer on-site dining or meal plans. According to Fair Housing Insiders, the overwhelming majority of accommodations that are made are dining or meal plan accommodations. These types of accommodations typically fall into two categories:
For medical accommodations, there is a medical reason why the resident requires a special diet. Whether it is an allergy, medication issue, or other medical reason, this type of accommodation requires paperwork to be filled out by a medical professional who has intimate knowledge of the resident.
Work-related accommodations are offered for residents who are employed and would be off-site during dining hours and are therefore offered an accommodation so that they can continue to receive their meals outside of normal dining hours.
These are just a few of the unique challenges that come with addressing the needs of residents living in senior housing, but the conversation continues. There are always more ways to be of service and provide the highest caliber of care. Be intentional about seeking out opportunities to make a better quality of life for our senior population.