Officials vows care home inspections will not lag

March 5, 2008 2:27:30 PM PST
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. 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"Never again will we be out of date on our personal-care home inspections," Richman said.

Nearly a year ago, the department revealed that nearly 75 percent of the state's roughly 1,500 personal-care homes were operating with expired licenses because they were still awaiting inspection, prompting criticism from lawmakers.

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.

Rep. Phyllis Mundy, D-Luzerne, chair of the House Aging and Older Adult Services Committee, sought assurances that personal-care home inspections would not be affected by a $100 million cut in administrative spending at all state agencies that Gov. Ed Rendell has proposed in his 2008-09 budget.

"I'm taking cuts in places where I can make sure the day-to-day work gets done," Richman said. "We are not going to cut personal-care homes."

At the same time, the department is confident that it can perform timely inspections with its current staffing levels, Richman said during a break in the budget hearing.

The agency has closed 127 homes deemed too unsafe for residents over the past year, Richman said.

Pennsylvania doesn't currently have a license category for assisted-living homes, but is developing rules for them. It expects some personal-care homes to be regulated as assisted-living homes - facilities for people who need more services than personal-care homes provide, but do not require the full-time medical care of a nursing home.

"I really believe that we're going to be able to have enough staff to get the job done," Richman said.


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