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CANHR Executive Director Pat McGinnis on ABC 7 News.

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KGO-TV San Francisco
Michael Finney
November 8, 2012

Coping with the death of someone close is never easy, but some Bay Area families with loved ones in assisted living centers say they’re forced to face another tragedy.

It’s common for homes that care for the elderly to require a 30 days’ notice before a resident leaves the facility, but of late, that notice requirement has been enforced even when a resident dies. And that has surviving families and senior advocates shaking their heads in disbelief.

Miranda Chu of Alameda mourns the death of Tak Sit — the ill cousin she promised to care for until he died.

“So I kind of feel that I should do my best to help him,” said Chu.

She couldn’t believe what came in the mail shortly after he died at his assisted living center in San Leandro — Marymount Villa.

“They’re asking for rent covering the two weeks after he passed away,” said Miranda Chu of Alameda.

The same thing happened to Robert Lai of North Beach when his 96-year-old mother Jessie died just 10 days after moving in to “The Avenue” assisted living center in San Francisco.

“Why should I pay $11,000 for 10 days of service?” asked Lai.

Both were unaware of a provision in the contract requiring up to 30 days’ notice. Both admit they signed the contract without fully understanding its terms; that’s something Pat McGinnis of the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform is seeing more and more.

“‘Of course I’ll sign that. I should give you notice that my mother’s going to be leaving and finding another place. Ah, but I didn’t know that you mean if my mother died, I was supposed to give you 30 days’ notice?’ Nobody knows that,” said McGinnis.

The organization is calling this one of the biggest issues facing seniors today.

“It is absurd. It’s absolutely absurd,” said McGinnis.

The Avenue, where Lai’s mother stayed, declined our request for an on camera interview, but by phone told us its policy is necessary to protect the company from financial hardship when a resident leaves voluntarily or involuntarily.

Marymount Villa also declined an on camera interview, saying it saw no point in talking to us if we were not members of the Lai family.

However, a trade group for assisted living providers says its members have made clarity and transparency a priority. The California Assisted Living Association thinks it’s important families fully understand any admission agreement they choose to sign.

The association also declined an opportunity to appear on camera, but Jim Johnson of AgeSong Assisted Living in San Francisco did agree to an interview. AgeSong is one of the few as

sisted living centers which waives a notice requirement when someone dies.

“If a person dies, it’s beyond everyone’s control, right?” asked Johnson.

That’s a policy Lai hopes more assisted living centers adopt.

“I’m not getting any care, nothing. I’m getting zero value for that,” said Lai.

California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform agrees and vows to work with the legislature to make that happen.

“I do think that this is something we should pursue because it is becoming a big problem and people simply aren’t aware of it,” said McGinnis.

Right now state regulations prohibit nursing homes from requiring notice when someone dies. Reform advocates say they’ll push for similar protections for those staying at assisted living centers.