DSHS offering change to believe in
Posted by Lynne Varner
The state Department of Social and Health Services, once again on the defense about its unimpressive track record caring for vulnerable populations, is recommending nearly a dozen new laws and reforms. This story offers a concise outline of the proposals to address rampant abuse outlined in a commendable Seattle Times series, "Seniors for Sale."
Poring over the proposed changes, I don't see a regulatory example of throwing everything but the kitchen sink at a problem. Here is the Editorial Page response to the proposal.
The adult-family home industry is lightly-regulated and its rapid growth underscores a need to not only address current problems but bring regulatory oversight up to a level that matches the size of the industry.
Some of the changes, for example limiting the number of homes under the control of a single owner, or preventing an owner from opening a second home after serious violations in the first, are important to the state's ability to maintain a grasp on the 2,858 homes statewide, half of which by the way, are in King County. Requiring adult-family homes to have on duty at all times an employee that speaks and understands English is critical for medical reasons.
But there is more the state can do Louise Ryan, the state's long-term care ombudsman, outlined in a four-page letter the changes she'd like to see DSHS make. Guess how many they're pursing? Nada. Any long term plans must include Ryan's concerns.
Admittedly, the agency cannot do everything at once. It is constrained by state law and finite resources. Indeed, it will be interesting to see how these reform proposals play out in the next session of the state Legislature.
It is a fair question to wonder whether this behemoth agency can actually change the landscape in one industry. The jury is still out on foster care, another area where DSHS has come under harsh fire - and a class-action lawsuit - was forced onto a road of dramatic reforms. Will it be the same for adult-family providers and their residents is the question. For the sake of the elderly and disabled people, let's hope DSHS is offering change the public can believe in.
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