A Grants Pass businesswoman is one of the driving forces behind a proposed bill in the Oregon Legislature that would set regulatory standards to protect elderly people at a vulnerable point in their lives.

Jamie Callahan says there is virtually no regulation of businesses that offer senior care services, such as referrals to nursing homes or assisted-living facilities.

"Oregon is asking for measurable standards," said Callahan, founder and co-CEO of Team Senior Referral Services. "We're asking for certification to actually be able to operate this kind of business."

House Bill 2661, sponsored by state Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, D-Portland, would protect retirees looking for long-term senior care or whose families are conducting that search on their own.

Callahan said the lack of state or federal protections leaves room for companies with predatory business practices to go after families in need of senior care for their family members. This enables companies that provide these services to be less than forthcoming, often sharing contact information with other businesses.

"The company is taking a vulnerable adult, in a time of duress and crisis, and it's gathering their information," Callahan said. "And these individuals are inundated with calls because their personal information was blasted out to everyone the care provider contracted with."

Another problem involves Medicaid payouts. Callahan says a federal anti-kickback statute, which prohibits transactions intended to induce or reward referrals for items or services reimbursed by federal health care programs, is easily ignored.

"There are people right here in Southern Oregon that are attempting to operate this kind of business in a really shady kind of way," Callahan explained. "It's a consumer protection issue."

Unfortunately for seniors and their families, this federal law is enforceable only by federal officials.

"It's not enforceable at the state level," Callahan said. "But, if we write it in this bill, it will be enforceable to pursue people who are referring Medicaid residents."

Among other things, HB2661 would create safeguards for consumers by:

• Requiring full written disclosure by referral agents to clarify expectations.

• Requiring referral agents to interview clients or responsible parties in person.

• Requiring referral agents to pre-screen facilities before recommending them.

HB2661 is not the first such bill in the country to attempt to offer consumer protections to senior citizens looking for elder-care services. California and Arizona both attempted to pass similar legislation twice. Neither attempt in either state was successful.

Jennifer Cook-Buman, a representative for the Oregon Senior Referral Agency Association, said the organization is backing the proposed bill.

"I think that we're not looking for a tremendous amount of regulation on this," she said. "We're just looking for some guidelines for ethical business standards, like most industries."

Most industry professionals have regulations to abide by, Cook-Buman added.

"It would just be nice if we were all playing by the same set of rules," she said.

Reach reporter Madeline Shannon at 541-474-3813 or mshannon@thedailycourier.com.