Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Legislation on "Personal Care Homes" in PA

On Tuesday, March 06, 2007, the Patriot News (Harrisburg, PA) published a report entitled, "Lawmaker tries again for care-home oversight", by Monica Von Dobeneck, regarding recent legislation introduced in the Pennsylvania House to regulate "personal care homes".

Two years ago, a beating sent Jeffrey Sees to the hospital with broken bones and led to an investigation that uncovered a string of horrors at the personal care homes run by Tina and Clifford Fake in the Palmyra area.

The stories shocked people in the Palmyra community, including state Rep. Mauree Gingrich, R-Palmyra, who said nobody should have to die or end up in the hospital before something is done to address cases of abuse and neglect of elderly or disabled people.

Gingrich again has introduced several bills to provide greater oversight of personal care homes, particularly the small facilities that have operated under the radar. She introduced similar bills last year that passed the House with unanimous support but stalled in the Senate. * * *

She noted that the proposed legislation covers only those relying on public funds. "Don't people funded privately deserve protection?" she asked.

Under Gingrich's proposals, nonrelated caregivers would not be able to benefit from their charges' wills or insurance policies or serve as executors of their estates. * * *

Under the proposals, caregivers also could not restrict residents from using the telephone, as the Fakes did.

The bills would increase penalties for abuse or neglect of elderly patients in care homes and require criminal background checks of caregivers. Clifford Fake had an extensive criminal history and served four years in prison for attempted homicide and aggravated assault.

Gingrich also proposes a Long Term Care Quality Improvement Council that would help coordinate agencies involved in elder care. * * *

"Personal Care Homes" are addressed by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging briefly on a webpage here:

Personal care homes, sometimes called assisted living facilities, offer room and board and assistance with the activities of daily living (such as bathing, grooming, and meal preparation). They are inspected and licensed by the Department of Public Welfare.

Older people or their families who are thinking about moving to a personal care home, should consider only those homes with a current license from the Department of Public Welfare a listing can be found at Personal Care Homes. It is also important to have a contract with the home operator which lists the services to be provided and the cost of each service.

The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare provides detailed explanations & resources regarding "personal care homes" on its website here. Among its many resources, a few are primary to an understanding of the "PCH" (visit that webpage for all information, including statistics, newsletters, regulations, forms, & training programs pertaining to PCHs):

But if the situation described by the Philadelphia Inquirer in its recent, four-part investigative series (published Feb 25-28, 2007, under the title "A Failure to Care"), is a true indicator, the existing regulations are insufficient, ineffective, and too narrow in scope. See: Phila. Inquirer's "Shame of the State" Investigation posted on this blog (March 1, 2007).

The Patriot News article identifies bills to regulate PCHs that were re-introduced in this legislative session for House consideration before those articles appeared. The attention brought by the press now highlights these proposals.

Through a search online at the Legislative Bill Room, I identified these recent bills introduced in the House:

HOUSE BILL 325 P.N. 376 -- An Act providing for annual, unannounced inspections of personal care homes; and making a related repeal. -- Referred to the House's Health & Human Services Committee on Feb. 9, 2007

HOUSE BILL 375 P.N. 439 -- An Act providing for the licensure and regulation of assisted living residences; conferring powers and duties on the Department of Public Welfare; adding members to the Intra-Governmental Council on Long-Term Care; and providing for penalties. -- Referred to to the House's Health & Human Services Committee on Feb. 13, 2007.

HOUSE BILL 376 P.N. 440 -- An Act providing for admission and retention of consumers in personal care homes, for appeals to the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals, for the powers and duties of the Department of Public Welfare and for report to the General Assembly. -- Referred to to the House's Health & Human Services Committee on Feb. 13, 2007.
More bills may be in the works, according to the Patriot News article: "Stacey Ward, spokesperson for the Department of Welfare, said department officials are developing legislation to increase oversight of personal care homes and 'look forward to working with' Gingrich."

In the meanwhile, a concerned fiduciary (such as an agent, guardian, or trustee) would do well to check out any personal care home receiving checks for ongoing care of their principal, ward, or beneficiary.

* * *

Update: 03/22/07:

State Senator Patricia H. Vance
(R-Cumberland) questioned Estelle Richman (Governor Rendell's nominee to serve as Secretary of Public Welfare) at a confirmation hearing held by the Senate's Public Health & Welfare Committee, on March 21, 2007.

The topics for questioning included the inspection & licensing of "personal care homes". See: "
Pa. welfare secretary says personal-care home inspections lagging", by Martha Faffaele, published March 21, 2007, by PhillyBurbs online.

Some personal-care homes in Pennsylvania are operating with expired licenses because of a state inspection backlog, and it could take until year's end to catch up, the state's top welfare official said Wednesday.

"I believe we're about six months behind (on inspections), but catching up," Public Welfare Secretary Estelle Richman told a panel of lawmakers. * * * Department spokeswoman Stacey Ward said later Wednesday that 1,190 homes are operating with expired licenses, but the department is moving to close 30 of them because of safety concerns. * * *

Vance said licenses expired more than 10 months ago for at least two homes in her district. One of those homes had received a letter from the department saying that, as a result of the delayed inspections, the letter was "verification of continued lawful operation," Vance said.

"What happens if there's a tragedy in that home?" Vance asked. "What do we tell the families of the people who are there?"

Richman responded that "it is the responsibility of the Department of Public Welfare to make sure things happen on time, and if we can't do that, then the secretary is the one responsible." * * *