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October 27, 2013

Richland Woods earns assisted living license

JOHNSTOWN — Senior citizens who are losing their ability to live independently now have another option with the region’s first licensed assisted living home.

Richland Woods Assisted Living Community has been issued the region’s first assisted living license, joining 29 others in the state to operate under the recently created license category.

“We couldn’t be more delighted to have earned an assisted living license,” said Pat Morgart, community director. “We also couldn’t be prouder of our dedicated caregiver team here at Richland Woods who achieved this success for all of our residents and families.”

Although Richland Woods and its parent company, LifeServices Assisted Living, promotes the assisted living license requirements as providing “higher minimum standards for resident services and care” than the personal care home license, the director of the bureau that oversees licensing does not like to use the term.

“It is more of a spectrum of care,” state Bureau of Human Services Licensing Director Ronald Melusky said.

Assisted living residences require private and semi-private rooms with individual entrances, kitchen capacity and private bathrooms. The facilities are required to have nursing staff available 24 hours a day and to make provisions that allow residents to receive skilled nursing care, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, wound care and ventilators.

But most of those services can be provided in personal care homes, and many homes choose to help make them available to their residents, Melusky pointed out.

In fact, many of the assisted living residence requirements were part of Richland Woods’ culture as long as it has operated under its former personal care home license, Morgart said.

“For us, the assisted living license regulations go hand in hand with what our philosophy has been for aging in place,” Morgart said. “It is what we have done all along.”

In fact, Morgart said, most of Richland Woods residents probably didn’t notice any differences through the changeover.

The idea of aging in place is to allow seniors to receive additional services as their health requires without being relocated into another facility, such as a nursing home.

It adds a level of comfort for the resident, senior living counselor Chris Pringle said.

“We are able to communicate better with that resident,” Pringle said. “They get comfortable here.”

In requiring assisted living residences to make additional services available, the new law also provides the businesses with a benefit, Melusky said. Unlike personal care homes, assisted living facilities can develop partnerships with support care providers and require residents to use those associated with the home.

The home also can bill its residents directly for the support care they receive. Personal care home residents deal directly with the agency providing the care, Melusky said.

Richland Woods has not taken that step, Pringle said.

Phone calls to several larger personal care facilities in the region did not find any others considering an assisted living residence license. Several administrators noted that their homes already meet many of the assisted living standards.

With the new license, which became available in January 2011, the state is not encouraging businesses to become assisted living facilities, Melusky stressed. Assisted living homes represent just one more option.

“What we certainly don’t want to do is restrict people’s choice on where they want to live,” Melusky said. “That would be contrary to the concept of aging in place.”

Randy Griffith is a reporter  for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at


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