Wednesday, September 19, 2007

PA DPW Closes a Personal Care Home

On September 16, 2007, in an article entitled "38 people displaced as Pa. officials close personal care home", the Centre Daily Times reported the closure by the PA Department of Public Welfare of a personal care home due to safety violations.

The state Department of Welfare shut down a personal care home due to safety concerns, moving its 38 adult residents to other housing, according to county officials and employees at the home.

The closure came Friday after at least three days of inspections at Whispering Pines, a privately run, family-owned home, said Troy Zimmerman, 32, son of owner David Zimmerman.

The state's complaints included the condition of a fire-alarm system and the strength of a wood-plank bridge that must be crossed to get to the home, said Troy Zimmerman and his sister, Heather.

State officials said the bridge would collapse if fire trucks had to cross it, said Zimmerman, who is also a cook at the home. He disputed that, however, saying the bridge can carry a tractor-trailer or an 18-ton piece of heavy equipment. Zimmerman also said it could have been made sturdier in a single day. * * *

Whispering Pines residents need assistance for their physical or mental well-being. * * *

The county Office of Aging participated in the shutdown Friday because of its role as ombudsman for elderly residents, Exarchos said.
The Whispering Pines Retirement Home had been fined in 2003 for violations regarding disposal of hazardous materials. See: DEP Press Release, "DEP Fines Whispering Pines Personal Care Home $3,000 For Infectious Waste Violations" (2003):
Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Regional Director Robert Yowell today announced that DEP has fined Whispering Pines Personal Care Home, located in Boggs Township, Centre County, $3,000 for the illegal disposal of infectious waste that was discovered at Bald Eagle State Park in March.

“The improper disposal of infectious medical waste is not something DEP takes lightly, and finding used hypodermic needles at a state park is a serious concern,” Yowell said.

A Bald Eagle State Park employee found a cardboard box containing the infectious waste at the park on March 26. Besides used needles, there also was a hand-written note in the box with insulin instructions for a diabetic resident of Whispering Pines Personal Care Home. * * *
The Centre County Times published a follow-up article on September 18, 2007, entitled "Violations plagued home", by Anne Danahy, which provided more details:
Several serious problems coupled with a history of violations were behind the state’s unusual decision Friday to immediately shut down a personal care home in Boggs Township, according to the Department of Public Welfare.

The department closed Whispering Pines, citing malfunctioning fire alarms, a roadway bridge in need of repair, improperly fencing in a resident’s porch and other code violations.

The family that runs the home thinks the problems were fixable and the decision was unfair. But a DPW spokeswoman said a history of noncompliance at Whispering Pines raised concerns.

“A lot of those complaints were repeat violations, which is very problematic, and there were also serious violations,” said spokeswoman Stacey Witalec. “They all build up to a very dangerous environment for people to live in.”

Witalec said Whispering Pines’ owners have 10 days to appeal the decision.

Troy Zimmerman, son of the owner, defended the facility and how it is run. But, he said, his family will probably not try to reopen the home as a personal care facility.

Instead, he said, they can continue to have three privately paying special care residents live there “without state regulations and all the baloney that goes along with it.” He said the home can also have boarders.

The privately run facility is one of 15 personal care homes in Centre County. It had 38 residents as of Friday and was licensed to have 58. Zimmerman said his father, David

Zimmerman, has run the home for 26 years and it housed many special-needs residents and people without family. He said the state pays $900 a month for a resident, and the home was just breaking even. * * *

Zimmerman said he thinks the state was looking for a reason to close the home and picked problems with the bridge as a reason. And he said the home has been spraying to get rid of flies and has planks that could have been used to fix the bridge.

“They didn’t give us that opportunity. They just came in and shut us down,” Zimmerman said. * * *

Witalec said more facilities are being closed under stricter regulations that took effect in October 2006. But a sudden closure like that of Whispering Pines is uncommon.
Because DPW regulates personal care homes, it offers consumer resources & licensing information on its website under the heading "Personal Care Homes".
The Department of Public Welfare strives to give older Pennsylvanians and people living with disabilities the freedom to live in or near their homes, near or with their families and friends, in their communities where they want to live and where they can contribute best to society.

The links on this page provide information on a range of options, services and funding sources for home and community based services.
DPW also offers a list of licensed personal care homes, searchable by county, here.

The regulations presently applicable to personal care homes are found in the Pennsylvania Code, Chapter 2600 ("Personal Care Homes").

However, new Pennsylvania laws were adopted in July, 2007, regarding "Assisted Living Facilities". These laws will result, eventually, in new regulations applicable to personal care homes. See: PA EE&F Law Blog posts, "PA's Act No. 56 on Assisted Living Facilities" (07/26/07), and "PA's "Assisted Living Facility" Bill (likely, Law)" (07/16/07).

These laws were adopted following publication in March, 2007,
by The Philadelphia Inquirer of a scathing investigative series about personal care homes in the Commonwealth, and following initial efforts by DPW to address such concerns. See: PA EE&F Law Blog post "PA DPW's Plan for Personal Care Homes?" (04/16/07).

In the meanwhile, any objectionable or suspicious incidents occurring at personal care homes still can be reported for investigation using a form posted online by DPW.