Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Washington State database tracks assisted living mishaps

by October 20th, 2013

It can be hard to know if you’re selecting the right assisted living facility for yourself or an aging relative or friend. A facility’s history may include failure to implement prescription drug regimens or individual medical care plans of residents; lax safety, sanitation, or health conditions; or even risk of financial fraud against residents. For Washingtonians though, choices are made easier thanks to a free online database provided by the state. The Assisted Living Facility Locator allows consumers to delve into public records of state enforcement actions for violations of proper care standards, and to see who’s clean as a whistle and who’s not, enforcement-wise. It includes facilities not listed in the helpful federal site Nursing Home Compare, which is limited only to those participating in Medicare and Medicaid.

The state’s ALF Locator is searchable by county, city, zip code and sub-type of facility. You can zero in on venues only with or only without any enforcement actions, or all within an area. The embedded disciplinary actions database goes back to April 15, 2010. It’s a service of the Aging and Long-Term Support Administration (ALTSA) of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

Here’s one example of how it can be used, broken up into six easy steps.

County or city
1) From the Locator’s landing page first pick a county or city.

Multiple cities
2) You might opt for the “cities” search option and select four within a given radius of an adult child who also lives in the region.

Type of provider; & enforcement actions status
3) Then scroll down further on the same screen to select specific criteria. There are five main types of facilities or service providers: assisted living, adult residential care, enhanced adult residential care, expanded community services, dementia care. You can specify size range of the facility under “Bed Count” and at the “Enforcement Letters” prompt, indicate whether you want to view results for all providers/facilities that meet your other search criteria, versus either only those with or without enforcement actions.

Output options include Excel and CSV
4) Also indicate your display preference for the results from the database: on screen, printer friendly, Excel spreadsheet, or the “CSV” (comma-separated variable) format which looks like Excel but can be used to make information-rich maps or data visualizations. Then click on “search” button below.

Exploring results in “on-screen” format
5) The results screen at this writing shows nine facilities that meet the selected criteria. This screenshot shows what the top of the list looks like.

Access to enforcement action records
6) Click on the “view letters” link for each, and you’ll be able to click into the individual, official documents from DSHS to the facility about shortcomings in conditions and care noted by inspectors. The enforcement letters also note any related fines, and any other disciplinary or corrective actions.

Consider enforcement actions in context
In reviewing the enforcement letters, keep several things in mind.

  • More than a few cited violations for which fines are levied are relatively minor. Additionally, the record will indicate whether or not there is a pattern of continued problems. A violation and small fine several years ago followed by a continued clean record may not indicate any current problems with a provider. As always, visit the facility, ask questions, and observe carefully. The paper trail is important but it’s not the whole picture.
  • Most fines that are levied tend to be in the range of several hundred dollars. When fine amounts go north of $1,000 per enforcement letter, or when there are an ongoing series of enforcement actions, problems may be more serious – or at least, extra due diligence may be required. One recent example is the series of state actions directed at a Seattle facility, Cannon House.
  • Issuance by DSHS of a “stop placement order prohibiting admissions” can be a red flag. It means that although the facility was not closed, it was ordered by the state to not take in any new residents until specified problems were judged to be resolved. Enforcement letter files will always include notice of the lifting of such an order. A somewhat lesser warning sign is when “conditions” are imposed on a licensee.


  • ALTSA’s online library includes publications translated into a wide array of languages on topics including family caregiving and community care, using Medicaid to help pay for care, guidelines for choosing a caregiving facility, and recognizing and avoiding abuse of vulnerable adults.
  • DSHS provides a similar search tool with enforcement action information for adult family homes, which provide care for the elderly in smaller settings than assisted living facilities.

  • Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

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