Monday, March 17, 2008

DPW Cracks Down on Care Homes

On March 5, 2008, the Associated Press published an article entitled "Welfare secretary vows Pa. won't lag on care home inspections", by Martha Raffaele, who reported "Pennsylvania's public welfare chief pledged Wednesday that the state will 'never again' fall behind on inspecting personal-care homes for the elderly and disabled after eliminating a massive backlog last year."

The article appeared in numerous Pennsylvania newspapers, including the Carlisle Sentinel, the Patriot-News (Harrisburg), the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Times-Leader (Scranton/Wilkes-Barre), and the York Daily Record.

Public Welfare Secretary Estelle Richman told lawmakers during a state budget hearing that her agency achieved its goal of completing all inspections by the end of 2007.

"Never again will we be out of date on our personal-care home inspections," Richman said. * * *

The agency is now concentrating on having inspectors visiting more homes earlier so that their workload can be spread more evenly throughout the year, Richman said.

Last year's overdue inspections had to be completed over a six-month period, she said. The state recruited 30 retired workers as temporary inspectors to help eliminate the backlog, and the department now has 70 full-time residential licensing staffers -- up from 43 in 2005.

More than 50,000 people live in Pennsylvania's personal-care homes, where they are aided with tasks such as bathing, dressing and taking medications. The homes can serve as few as four people or as many as 100 or more residents in sprawling campuses marketed as "assisted living" communities. * * *

The agency has closed 127 homes deemed too unsafe for residents over the past year, Richman said. * * *
The effects of such increased inspections are indeed evident from recent newspaper reports regarding personal care home violations charged, closures demanded, or voluntary cessations anticipated, as reflected in recent newspaper articles:

McKeesport Mayor James Brewster vowed last week he would "do whatever it takes" to save the Glenshire Woods personal care home from closing. He said he'll even travel to the home's headquarters in Toronto to plead for an extension to give residents and staff more time to adjust.

Canadian-owned Extendicare earlier this month notified by letter the 63 staff members and the 132 residents that the company intends to close the facility off Versailles Avenue behind the Auberle Home campus in McKeesport.

Residents were given 60 days to find another facility in which to live.

Extendicare cited structural deficiencies that would be too expensive to repair or renovate as one of its reasons for the decision to cease operations in McKeesport. * * *

Shields’ Home for the Aged, Route 351 in New Galilee, shut down last week, forcing its 15 residents to find new homes.

The closing comes after the state Department of Public Welfare cited the facility last summer with 51 violations of the state’s regulations for personal-care homes.

The violations included, but weren’t limited to, employing four staff members who lacked a high school diploma or General Educational Development certificate, and having expired medications on the premises. * * *
State officials have moved to shut down what they described as an illegal personal care home in Indiana Township [Allegheny Co., PA], run by an operator they previously put out of business.

The Department of Public Welfare sent an order Tuesday to Judith Reynolds, former owner of Cedarwood Personal Care Inc., to cease operations. The notice said she was violating state law by providing housing and services to four unrelated individuals at 3731 Saxonburg Blvd.

Welfare officials fined her $500 as a result of a Feb. 13 inspection of her home, based on a complaint the department received. * * *
Personal-care homes in McKeesport and Washington, Pa., plan voluntary shutdowns this spring.

Glenshire Woods personal care center, a 135-bed facility that has operated under two different owners in McKeesport for 20 years, told its 115 residents and 63 staff Friday that it will close April 30.

Cherry Tree Assisted Living, on the sixth floor of Washington's George Washington Hotel on Main Street, announced it will close March 31. It has 45 beds, with 21 current residents and about 10 employees. Personal-care homes are required to give 30 days' notice of plans to cease operating.

A Department of Public Welfare spokeswoman said both facilities are in good standing with the state, with regular licenses from passing their most recent annual inspections. * * *
In the past few years, Tim Yeager has seen a number of small personal care homes close. “I’m one of the very few small homes left in Cumberland County,” said Yeager, who for the past 10 years has been caring for about eight elderly people at Yeager’s Personal Care Home on West Keller Street in Mechanicsburg.

Although he’s still in business and planning to stay that way, Yeager said his business also provides evidence of the increased pressures such homes face: Yeager used to have two homes but sold the second one last October because of the increase in regulations. He said he can think of just two similar homes still operating in Cumberland County.

Yeager’s story is just one of many that have cropped up across the state at similar homes that serve adults needing supervision and help with daily living but not 24-hour medical care.

State Department of Public Welfare officials acknowledge that they are strongly enforcing new regulations imposed in 2005 to improve the health and safety of residents of Pennsylvania’s more than 1,500 personal-care homes — and make no apologies for it. * * *
Citing safety concerns, state officials have banned admissions and are trying to shut down operations at Windsor Place, a large personal care home in Ross.

Operators of the decade-old, 119-bed facility have appealed the Department of Public Welfare shutdown order and contend state officials are retaliating against them for leading an effort to overturn new personal care home regulations.

Windsor Place remains open pending a decision from an administrative law judge on its appeal of the Jan. 16 shutdown order. It has been unable to accept new residents since that date, however, and is down to 110 residents, said administrator and owner Lynn Harvey. It has more than 100 employees, she said.

Much of the dispute between Windsor Place and the state, which began when the first of two provisional licenses was issued last February, focuses on fire safety measures. * * *
Birch Hills Residence, a [47-bed] personal care home in Simpson, Lackawanna County, has voluntarily decided to close it’s doors February 4, according to the Department of Public Welfare. * * *

“There were a number of problems related to the owner’s operation of the facility and concern for the health and safety of the people who resided there,” said Stacey Witalec, spokesperson for the Department of Public Welfare, which licenses and regulates personal care homes.

The Department of Public Welfare has similar concerns for
Mallard Meadows Residential Healthcare, Inc., a personal care home in Waymart * * *.

She says Mallard Meadows’ license is pending in Commonwealth Court and that the Department took action for non-renewal of their license in August of 2007. That’s around the same time they took action for non-renewal of Birch Hill’s license. * * *
One newspaper made a statement of support for DPW's increased vigilance in inspecting personal care homes, and also for holding their owners accountable. On March 14, 2008, the Altoona Mirror published an editorial entitled "Ensure Inspections Done on Time", which began with its position statement:
For the safety of potentially more than 3,700 area elderly and disabled residents, state lawmakers must be vigilant in ensuring that personal care homes are getting timely inspections. * * *