Coast-to-coast travel can be challenging -- and inspiring. Both was true for me this last week as a result of spending hours on the road and in airplanes to attend annual meetings as an invited speaker for two resident organizations on opposite sides of the country, one in New Jersey and one in Washington state. ORANJ was established by residents of Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) in 1991 for the purpose of "supporting, empowering, and bettering the lives of seniors" living in New Jersey. WACCRA was incorporated in 2015 with a mission of "education, collaboration and advocacy" among residents of CCRCs, and I had the privilege of watching its early organizational stages from 2012 to 2014.
Each organization has worked diligently to reach residents of Continuing Care Retirement Communities, sometimes called Life Plan Communities, in order to identify concerns that might be shared by their respective communities. Over the years, the leaders have developed deep knowledge bases and they use media (including websites, blog posts or newsletters, flyers, topic-specific Zoom meetings, and "consumer guides" relevant to future residents) to share their knowledge and to build collaborative in-state networks and to participate with other CCRC resident organizations across the country.
History has proven that the formats used by most CCRCs involve some form of high-dollar admission fee, plus monthly "service" fees, that generate substantial funds. These funds are used to develop and operate communities that offer independent living units in a supportive environment, plus key opportunities as needs change for greater assistance and skilled care and/or memory care. There are now multiple formats with different types of CCRC contracts governing the relationships between individual residents and the community.
Ongoing strength of a community has long been tied to careful management of the funds, especially the admission/entrance fees, which may put the residents in the position of unsecured creditors if serious financial problems arise. Thus, over the years, residents in several states have sought key consumer protections through legislation. WACCRA, for example, retains a seasoned, professional lobbyist. Volunteers at ORANJ, including attorneys who reside in New Jersey CCRCs, lead the way in building relationships with legislators.
The membership base for New Jersey and Washington is slightly different in approach. In New Jersey, resident associations at 25 CCRCs are members of ORANJ and had representatives of the associations, plus interested people attending the 2023 annual meeting on October 18, 2023. In Washington, membership includes individual residents of most of the 23 CCRCs in the state. Family members of residents can also have memberships, a step which is important for recognizing how CCRC living can impact the family as a whole. WACCRA's annual meeting took place on October 21 at a CCRC just outside of Seattle and the ballroom was packed, plus there were additional members who attended via a live streaming feed.
Perhaps most impressive to me was the work underway in each states to present or respond to proposed legislation affecting relationships between the public, residents and the providers of this unique format for senior living. In Washington, for example, WACCRA is making careful, step-by-step progress on legislation to facilitate transparency about finances, scope of operations, and fundamental consumer protections. This effort will build on key legislation enacted in 2017 whereby CCRCs must register with the state.
In New Jersey, there is a bill pending that focuses on the timing of refundable fees and, if passed, would require such refunds within 12 months of a resident's death or departure. There was important discussion about whether and why ORANJ and LeadingAge New Jersey & Delaware may be aligned in their responses to this proposed legislation.
Both annual meetings included Q and A with panels of members active in the organizations. While I was asked to speak separately on what I see as key consumer protections for residents of CCRCs and the role of state laws, in both states it was a pleasure for me to point to the the discussions provided by the panel members who are already fully engaged in advocacy for such safeguards.
I was impressed and inspired by the work of both residents and resident organizations, and the professional approaches that are well underway, sometimes with the assistance of experienced lobbyists. I know similar advocacy is ongoing in several other states. The common goals are clear: residents appreciate their communities and they want to see them thrive, and their experiences demonstrate that better transparency about finances and protections for residents will further the goals.
My special thanks to Barbara Trought, Rick Ober, and Ron Whalin at ORANJ and to WACCRA presidents Laura Saunders (incoming) and Donna Kristaponis (outgoing) for their leadership work, and especially to Donna for her warmth, wine, and laughter as my host at Emerald Heights.
October 26, 2023 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Programs/CLEs, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink
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