shows the outside of the main building for DHHS in Raleigh
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, including the Division of Health Service Regulation that monitors adult care homes, is housed on the campus of the former Dorothea Dix state mental hospital in Raleigh. Frank Taylor / Carolina Public Press

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By Thomas Goldsmith

Everyone at a General Assembly committee hearing Tuesday liked, in concept, legislation that would require North Carolina assisted living centers to have emergency electrical service on hand during power outages.

After all, the residential centers known in North Carolina as adult care homes increasingly house people with debilitating illnesses and mobility problems as well as those who mostly need room and board. Members of the House Aging Committee gave a favorable nod to House Bill 410 after a presentation by sponsor Rep. Julia Howard (R-Mocksville) and some assurances that the bill would get further work.

The snag came when a lobbyist for the industry claimed the measure would cost an estimated $84 million to outfit adult care homes across the state with generators. Jeff Horton, executive director of the North Carolina Senior Living Association, called having a replacement power source at every center a desirable element, but a “luxury” given the levels of reimbursement supplied for low-income residents through state, federal and county revenues.

“This bill has the capacity to put some of our adult care homes out of business,” said Rep. MaryAnn Black (D-Durham.) “We do need generators … but how do we get there?”

Committee chair Rep. Pat Hurley (R-Asheboro) initially announced that the committee would only discuss the bill, but changed direction to move the measure along, she said. Howard cited a bad-weather incident in her district that left residents of an assisted living home without power for 12 and a half hours.

“It was sleeting and it was 11 degrees,” Howard said. “There’s bound to be a better way than to face this situation again.”

‘Aging faster’

The bill would require facilities to be able to provide “heat, air conditioning, lighting and other essential services” during emergencies. Committee members heard that outages could interrupt some services that might not immediately occur to people outside the field: Dispensing medications these days relies heavily on electronic records, e-reminders and computerized dispensing machines.

Horton noted that facilities are required to have plans for evacuating residents in case of emergencies and said that they had worked well in recent years. He and other industry advocates asked for the measure to be turned into a study bill, something Howard rejected.

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Committee members said that residents in assisted living are often from low-income families. They include people with disabilities as well as older people, Howard said.

“Some of us are aging faster than others,” said the committee’s vice chair, Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield (D-Wilson.)

The bill goes next to the Rules Committee, then to the full House before needing to make its way through the Senate. If passed, any rules would have to be written by the North Carolina Medical Care Commission, a process that can take years.

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Thomas Goldsmith

Thomas Goldsmith worked in daily newspapers for 33 years before joining North Carolina Health News. Goldsmith is a native Tar Heel who attended the UNC-Chapel Hill, and worked at newspapers in Tennessee...

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