​Elder Care Facility Struggles Under Regulations Burden

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

Two years ago the Sheltering Arms elder care facility in Palmer, Tenn., learned they would be required to install a sprinkler system to comply with fire safety regulations. “We’ve only been inspected once,” said Janie Roberts whose family started offering care for the elderly in their home 17 years ago.
Sheltering Arms has applied for licensure as an assisted living facility, which differs from a residential home for the aged in providing medical services and a higher level of care. In addition to holding her healthcare administrator’s license, Roberts is a registered nurse. The Sheltering Arms staff also includes a licensed dietician, certified nursing assistants, visiting physician Dr. John Mckeown, and two visiting nurse practitioners.
The pending assisted living licensure would allow Sheltering Arms to house six residents. The facility currently offers care to four. “We could easily fill 30 beds, but we don’t want to get too big,” said Roberts who along with her husband Jamie owns and manages the facility. “We want to continue to give one-on-one care.”
Prior to applying for the pending licensure Sheltering Arms operated as a private home. The state offers a sprinkler system exemption for residential homes for the aged with 11 or fewer residents. But, Sheltering Arms decided to pursue an assisted living credential. “The state is trying to eliminate the residential homes for the aged altogether,” Roberts said.
She also cited concerns about the more stringent evacuation plan required in unsprinklered facilities. “It used to be you had to be able to get everyone out in 13 minutes or less, but now it’s three minutes. I don’t know that we could do that,” she acknowledged, even though all residents are housed on the first floor and rooms exit into a wide hallway.
Lack of a sprinkler system was the only shortcoming noted by the Health Department inspector. “We don’t have a problem with complying,” Roberts insisted, “but we don’t have the money.” Cost estimates range from $53,000 to $120,000.
Sheltering Arms has employed an architect who will draw up plans for a sprinkler installation and submit them to the state. According to Roberts, the architect found the facility readily amenable to the renovation.
In the hope of raising funds to assist the facility in paying for the costly renovation, Sheltering Arms has set up a GoFundMe page on Facebook and opened an account at Citizens Tri-County Bank, where supporters can make contributions.
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