Senior Housing and Mental Health Challenges - The Fair Housing Institute, Inc.

Senior Housing and Mental Health Challenges

Episode 25 of Fair Housing Insiders

Senior Housing and Mental Health Challenges - Woman trying to assist to senior citizens.

We are happy to have Brandon Ball from Wesley Woods Senior Living and George Tucker from Campbell-Stone join us again to tackle perhaps the most difficult fair housing topic: Mental health challenges and senior housing.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Highlights of Episode 25 – Senior Housing and Mental Health Challenges

Mental health disabilities remain a complex and often taboo topic to discuss. Regardless, mental health situations are a very real part of senior living that needs to be addressed fairly and equitably for all involved. Be it the resident that has the disability, the staff assisting, or other fellow residents.

Mental Health Accommodations

Every resident is bound by their lease agreement and housing rules which include non-tolerance of threatening or aggressive behavior. That being said, should reasonable accommodations be made for a resident with a mental health disability that has resulted in objectionable behavior that violates the lease or housing rules?

Consider this scenario. A resident that you have known for some time begins to exhibit aggressive behaviors that are out of character. Should you write up a violation and call it a day? While you always need to follow your housing policies and procedures, does this type of scenario calls for additional actions?

Typically we need to wait for a resident to inquire about a reasonable accommodation, but in cases involving mental health disabilities, we may need to ask the resident if they are having problems to see where we can help.

Often if your community has a service coordinator or a behavioral health program, these services can help by connecting residents with the treatment they need. This will help you achieve the balance of accommodating the resident while maintaining a peaceful environment and enforcing the housing rules and regulations. The steps can look like this:

  • Resident notified and given a copy of the lease violation
  • Within the timeframe for resolution of the violation, work with the resident, resident’s support system, and physicians to plan a remedy to the situation and avoid additional violations
  • Ensure other affected parties, such as residents or staff, are made aware that the problem has been taken seriously and is being addressed while not revealing any personal or confidential information concerning the mentally ill resident

The end goal here is to ensure that everyone’s needs and rights are being met and the peace of the property is maintained.

Mental Health or Personality Trait

In the above scenario, we discussed a change in behavior that led to a reasonable accommodation. But what if there is an obvious long-term pattern of aggressive behavior? Or perhaps the resident has stated that they can’t help it; it is part of their illness. Should these residents also be reasonably accommodated?

To operate a positive community, we cannot allow disruptive behaviors. While we can ask other residents to be sensitive and patient to behaviors that are merely annoying when a resident’s disability negatively impacts other residents and disrupts the livability of their home, it is time to address the situation to determine whether the offensive behavior (s) can be improved, with or without accommodations. Remember the lease assures all residents the right to peaceful enjoyment of the community.

Housing providers of senior communities need to calmly remind offending residents that while requests for reasonable accommodation will always be considered, abusive behavior will not be accepted. While as a reasonable accommodation housing providers can allow time for a resident to work with mental health and behavioral services to make the needed behavior changes. However, if there is no change, then procedures will need to be implemented to enforce the lease. This is always the last option because we really don’t want to take this step, but we have an obligation to maintain a community where everyone’s rights are being respected.

Senior Resident Mental Health Challenges and Staff

Mental health challenges in senior properties can take their toll on your staff. A great tip is to source out a Mental Health First Aid class that can better equip your staff to tackle these problematic situations and give staff the skills to better handle these challenges. Another great tool if your community has the resources to provide an on-site mental health counselor for residents and staff.

Administrators should be sensitive to emotional and professional burnout by encouraging staff to obtain the resources needed to manage their stress levels. Likewise, Boards and Owners should be similarly concerned that the Administrators also have available resources devoted to avoiding emotional exhaustion.

Staff needs to know that they are not expected to tolerate abusive behavior. They should know that their rights are important and protected and the steps they should take to address abusive resident behavior.

By working together with behavioral specialists and ensuring that your staff has access to mental health and fair housing training, you can tackle these situations together fairly and successfully.

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