Gov. Katie Hobbs signs law aimed at accountability for Arizona long-term care facilities

Gov. Katie Hobbs, backed by supporters of HB 2764, signs the bill into law on April 8, 2024, in the Arizona State Capitol Executive Tower in Phoenix. (Photo by Analisa Valdez/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – The multiyear journey to get health care reform for long-term assisted living facilities signed into law has finally come to fruition. Gov. Katie Hobbs signed HB 2764 at the Arizona State Capitol Executive Tower on Monday morning.

“I urged legislators to join me in addressing this issue head on, making sure that bad actors are held accountable and putting an end to the cycle of abuse against vulnerable Arizonans,” Hobbs said during opening remarks. “Today, with the signing of House Bill 2764, that is exactly what we are doing.”

According to the Arizona Adult Protective Services’ annual report on elder and nursing home abuse, the state received over 37,000 reports during fiscal 2023, approximately 2,500 of which came from caregivers and resident managers. HB 2764 requires the Arizona Department of Health Services to implement stricter standards and oversight for these facilities, particularly in memory care services, to ensure public health, safety and welfare are maintained.

“House Bill 2764 is a prime example of working in bipartisan fashion to tailor the correct amount of regulation to equip our health partners enhancing services to provide the best care possible,” said state Rep. Tim Dunn, R-Yuma, the bill’s sponsor. “The memory-care patient population continues to rise in Arizona, and our state needs to be a leader in providing high-quality services. HB 2764 will positively impact directed and assisted care services to over 60,000 Arizona citizens that are truly thankful.”

Joann Thompson died shortly after she was beaten by another resident at Bethesda Gardens Assisted Living Facility in Phoenix, according to a series in The Arizona Republic. Her daughter, Cathy McDavid Mazur spoke Monday about her experiences and the goals she set for herself following her mother’s passing.

“At the time, I made myself two promises: The first was I would live every day in a way that honored my mother and her memory; the second was I would do my best to promote change in the long-term-care industry and improve circumstances for the elderly,” Mazur said. “To that end, I reached out to The Arizona Republic in the hopes that sharing my mother’s story would raise public awareness, as well as garner the attention of people with the ability to make things happen.”

Republic reporters created a database using citations from various nursing homes to pinpoint systemic issues many assisted living facilities encounter that create harmful environments for vulnerable adults. Against the backdrop of the published series, HB 2764 garnered support from Gila River Indian Community Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis, AARP Arizona State Director Dana Kennedy, members of the Alzheimer’s Association and more.

“As a tribe, as a state, it is our most profound obligation to take care of our most vulnerable populations,” Lewis said Monday. “We know the issues that Arizona has faced. We know that tribal members have been specifically targeted and placed in unsafe and abusive facilities. This bill will make it easier to report such conditions, will increase fines to penalize those who seek to take advantage of those who need assistance and will provide additional resources to deny or pursue legal action against facilities that are found in violation of the standards required for residential facilities.”

Currently, the maximum fine living facilities have to pay for negligence is $500, but HB 2764 doubles this amount per patient. The law also allows the state health department to ensure that negligent facilities face accountability by denying the transfer of license for any facility with pending fines and by also allowing legal action to persist even after a facility closes or changes its name.

“I’m extremely proud of the work we’ve done to get here, but the work is not over. These issues have highlighted an underlying problem with the way the state has allowed our health care system to function,” Hobbs said.

“Today I ask that all agencies, departments and legislators join me in recommitting ourselves to transparency, accountability and action,” she said. It should never have taken this long to act when these stories came to light. We have a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of all Arizonans, and this legislation is just the first of many steps that we’ll take to get there.”

Analisa Valdez(she/her/hers)
News Reporter, Phoenix

Analisa Valdez expects to graduate May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Valdez has interned as a nightlife/lifestyle reporter at the Copper Courier in Phoenix and as an arts, opinion, culture and community reporter with The State Press.