Retirement home can force resident to move to higher level of care

A retirement community can force one of its residents to move from a private apartment to a smaller assisted-living unit, a federal court has ruled.

Sally Herriot, 90, is a resident of Channing House, a continuing care retirement community in Palo Alto, California. Like many such communities, Channing House provides three levels of care – independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing. After moving to the facility with her now-deceased husband in 1991, Ms. Herriot lived in a spacious independent living apartment.

But after she returned from a hospital stay in 2006, Channing House determined that it was necessary to transfer her from her apartment to a much smaller, hospital-like assisted-living unit where she could be served by a trained nursing staff. Ms. Herriot, her family and her doctor objected to the transfer, arguing that she was able to remain in her apartment with the help of round-the-clock private aides she had hired. Channing House rejected this arrangement.

Ms. Herriot sued in federal court, claiming that Channing House had discriminated against her based on her disabilities, and arguing that it should accommodate her by allowing her to hire private aides.

But the court ruled that Channing House has a duty to provide Ms. Herriot with medical care based on her level of need, and it can’t hand over that duty to private help – even private help hired by Ms. Herriot. The court found that Channing House would be violating its legal obligations by accepting Ms. Herriot’s plan to allow her to remain in her apartment.

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