Tacoma City Council Passes New Ordinance with Penalties for “Non-emergent Lift Assistance”

Tacoma City Council Passes New Ordinance with Penalties for “Non-emergent Lift Assistance”

The new City ordinance goes into effect on February 1, 2019.  At that time, the City will be authorized to issue a penalty of $350 for the first incident, $500 for the second incident, and $850 for each incident thereafter of the Chief determines the response to be a non-emergency lift assist at an assisted living community or skilled nursing facilities.  As of January 1, 2020, the penalty will be assessed at $850 per incident regardless of the absence of prior calls.

Kevin McFeely, Executive Director at Tacoma Lutheran Retirement Community, Laura Hofmann and Deb Murphy of LeadingAge Washington testified in opposition to the new ordinance.  Representatives from WHCA, the Adult Family Home Council, the Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s office, and Disability Rights Washington also testified in opposition to it and Candy Goehring, DSHS, testified with concerns.

The Council asked City staff to continue to work on outreach and education related to the new ordinance with all stakeholder groups, including LeadingAge Washington.  We expect the Fire Department to schedule a meeting in the coming days to better define “non-emergent lift assistance”, to better understand the types of calls that would trigger a fine, along with other implementation details.

The Fire Department notes that each year it responds to 350 to 360 nonemergency calls for falls. Most of these calls come from 27 of the 127 adult family homes, assisted living and nursing homes located within the city limits.  The vast majority of these calls are from assisted living.  

Fire Chief James Duggan said at the City Council meeting that these calls range from assisting a resident up off the floor or to and from the toilet for staff convenience or injury prevention. LeadingAge Washington agrees that emergency resources should not be misused to shift liability or for staff convenience; however, we continue to have several concerns with the new ordinance.  This ordinance may discourage calls to 911 and unknowingly cause significant harm to residents.  Residents may refuse emergency responder services to avoid paying heavy fines. And the ordinance is arbitrary in that adult family homes and persons living at home with a caregiver were exempted because of caregiver availability and scope of practice limitations. 

We are aware that other jurisdictions in the state have reached out to the Tacoma Fire Department for information on this new ordinance. Please let us know if you become aware of a similar proposal in your city/town so we can work with your local authority early on to thwart the adoption of similar proposals.

You may read the Tacoma News Tribune coverage of the city’s action to adopt this ordinance here.  Finally, Deb Murphy was contacted by McKnight’s Long-Term Care News for comment on this new ordinance which you may read here.