House Bill 134 (HB134) by State Rep. Ed Oliver (R-Dadeville) would create the Alabama Assisted Living Board of Mitigation to help resolve disputes between assisted living facilities and the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH).

HB134 received a public hearing before the House Health Committee on Wednesday and will receive a vote next week.

"We would like to demonstrate how we could provide a solution to a systemic problem without rebuilding the existing infrastructure," Oliver said.

Supporters of the bill spoke extensively on the current ADPH process in resolving disputes, saying it drove away business investment in Alabama assisted living and made operating facilities difficult.

Jerry Lathan of Mobile spoke in support of the bill. He told of his experience with his mother in an assisted living facility and talking to businessmen in other states who avoid Alabama.

Lathan described meeting a CEO of a major healthcare firm, who gave a less-than-glowing assessment of Alabama's operations.   

"The man said some foul words that I won't repeat and said, 'You can have Alabama. Nobody with any sense would risk capital there. Because, if you have a problem there, you can't get a fair shake,'" Lathan said.

Stuart Coleman, an assisted living owner in the state, also spoke in favor of the bill. Coleman described an opening survey in his first facility, in which the ADPH surveyor quipped, "Don't forget, I can come in here and shut you down whenever I want."

"It's a systemic problem," Coleman said. "There's no oversight."

"Dozens of [Assisted Living Association of Alabama] members would be here today writing letters of support, but they have true fear of retaliation. Because those threats that were made to me and my team were not idle threats; they were very real threats. So, the vast majority of the Association, assisted living providers are fearful to standing up."

Frank Holden, a former Assisted Living Association of Alabama president, also said the current process was unfair, calling ADPH a "monolithic department of state government."

Current Assisted Living Association of Alabama chairman Nick Wilmott spoke in opposition to the bill.

"Costs of this new program will likely be significant, and no source of funding to cover these costs has been identified," Wilmott said. "Who will pay for the staff? Who will pay for the other costs involved to support this new program? Will this be funded by the assisted living industry, or [will] the burden fall on the state General Fund?"

Wilmott said Association representatives already meet quarterly with ADPH staff and State Health Officer Scott Harris, saying the conversations are "productive" and provide ADPH with issues and concerns from the Association.

"We believe that the current method for resolving disagreements between facility operators and the state and the working relationship will strengthen as our regular meetings with the department of the state health officer continue," Wilmott said.

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