In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law, enforcing equal opportunities and proper accommodations be available to disabled individuals. It also barred organizations and businesses from discriminating against disabled Americans. However, even with the ADA passed 30 plus years ago, not all facilities are compliant with it. This is also true for senior care facilities, where compliance with the ADA matters a lot for ensuring the well-being of its residents.
However, the ADA is not enforced by any agency. It is more so a self-policing policy that, if not followed, can lead to complaints and potentially lawsuits. These standards need to be properly followed to avoid scenarios like that.
“Predominantly, what I see are issues where there is insufficient maneuvering clearance,” says Joan Stein, president of Stein Consulting, LLC. “What maneuvering clearance is the area next to a door that provides space for somebody who uses a wheelchair or a walker to be able to approach the door outside of the door swing.”
That is just one example, as there are many ways the ADA can be violated. Facilites that fail to account for these errors or violations will face negative consequences, like potential lawsuits.
“If someone with a disability feels as though their rights have been violated, they can do one of two things,” says Stein. “The first option is to file a complaint with the Justice Department. The Justice Department does an investigation and if it climbs to a violation, the first violation is a $75,000 penalty plus they must correct the violation. The subsequent violations are $155,000 penalties and the Justice Department is the only entity that can assess penalties, whether they be punitive or compensatory damages, to the plaintiff.”
The other option is to go to federal court. While people have the option to file in federal court, the amount of time to investigate and potential rejection of their case are drawbacks of that option.
“Now if they file in federal court, they do not get compensatory or punitive damages. The only thing that happens is the lawyer who files the case gets their fees paid and the business must remove the barriers,” says Stein. “On a good day, the Justice Department may take two years to investigate. Sometimes they come back and say you do not have a case. So, unless you have a complaint against a mega corporation like a McDonald's or a Marriott, your complaint is not going to see the light of day.”
Either way, a senior care facility can face serious costs if they do not follow the standards. The costs are not limited to financial ones, however. A lawsuit will also damage a senior living facility’s reputation. People who would consider going to a senior care facility may be driven away if said facility is infamous for its violations. People want to have confidence that their safety and best interests — or their family member’s safety and best interests — have been accounted for with a facility.
“So, stay ahead of the game and fix your violations. Then let people know that you fix them because if you want people to come into your business, you must make it easy for them to do that,” says Stein. “The ADA is a federal law. Following it is the smart thing to do and it is the right thing to do, and those should not be mutually exclusive.”
Jeff Wardon, Jr. is the assistant editor for the facilities market.