By Kati Weis

(CBS4) – Following CBS4 Investigates reporting on alleged abuse and neglect at some assisted living facilities in Colorado, a bill that would better hold those facilities accountable passed in a state senate committee Monday. SB22-154 passed four to three and will move to the appropriations committee next.

(credit: CBS)

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Jessie Danielson (D-Wheat Ridge), says the bill would create several more stringent regulations for assisted living facilities to better protect the vulnerable residents that live there.

After CBS4 reported about two women who died after alleged mistreatment at an assisted living facility in Arvada, the facility was only fined $2,000, because that is the maximum annual fine allowed under law. That facility has since gotten new ownership.

RELATED: State Health Dept. Inspections Allege Mistreatment And Neglect At Two Colorado Assisted Living Facilities

The families of those women thought that was a drop in the bucket, considering they paid more than $5,000 a month for their mothers to live there.

Danielson agreed, she said the bill will remove the $2,000 cap.

“The $2,000 limit on fines for abuse and neglect seems astonishingly low, and I know the constituents in my district, as well as across the state, find this really offensive that a company can just absorb this as a cost of doing business,” Danielson said.

In contrast, nursing homes can face tens of thousands of dollars in fines annually, because they are subject to federal regulations.

Owners of some smaller assisted living facilities, who testified against the bill Monday, say having higher fines could put them out of business.

Family members who lost loved ones to alleged mistreatment at assisted living facilities and representatives for senior advocacy groups like AARP and the Center on Aging testified in support of the bill, saying the changes are reasonable.

“I think we’ll save a lot of people in the future with this,” said Melisa Goodard, whose mother died after alleged mistreatment at an assisted living facility.

The bill will also require assisted living administrators to have more training.

Health and Human Services Committee members who approved the bill Monday said they were voting “yes,” on the condition there would be more discussions and revisions for the bill to find common ground between industry needs and keeping residents safe.

“Affordable for some is not affordable for everyone,” said committee member Sen. Rhonda Fields (D-Arapahoe). “There is more work to be done.”

Health and Human Services Committee Chair Joann Ginal (D-Larimer) echoed those concerns before voting yes.

“There’s got to be some sort of delineation there between small and large assisted living residences,” Ginal said. “There’s a heck of a lot to do… this is just the tip of the iceberg, I think.”

Committee member Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis said she couldn’t believe assisted living facilities still only face maximum $2,000 fines for egregious violations.

“We are dealing with people’s lives on an everyday basis,” Jaquez Lewis said of the bill. “Keeping people safe is very important.”

Kati Weis