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Originally published October 15, 2010 at 9:02 PM | Page modified October 16, 2010 at 2:17 PM

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DSHS demotes state's adult-homes chief

Under fire for failure to protect vulnerable adults, the Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) demoted a top administrator who oversees enforcement of a rapidly expanding senior-care option: adult family homes.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Under fire for failure to protect vulnerable adults, the Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) demoted a top administrator who oversees enforcement of a rapidly expanding senior-care option: adult family homes.

The unexpected announcement Friday is part of an overhaul by DSHS to more rigorously license and police businesses and caregivers for the elderly, according to state officials and legislators.

On Nov. 1, Kathy Leitch's $122,000-a-year position as assistant secretary of the Aging and Disability Services Administration will be assumed by MaryAnne Lindeblad, DSHS director of health-care services and Medicaid programs.

Leitch's demotion follows calls for change by legislators and senior advocates after a Seattle Times investigation, "Seniors for Sale," found that hundreds of elderly have been injured or died prematurely from substandard care in the homes, often through neglect by scantly trained caregivers.

"I'm glad to see DSHS has gotten the message on the need for change," said Rep. Brendan Williams, D-Olympia.

At least a dozen legislators said they will sponsor state laws to rein in the growing adult-home industry, including profiteers who openly market the elderly as investments.

The Times has detailed scores of cases in which the elderly were imprisoned in their rooms, roped into their beds at night, strapped to chairs during the day so they wouldn't wander off, drugged into submission or denied medical treatment for weeks.

Leitch, an assistant secretary since 2000, will remain at the agency, working on improving the quality of adult homes and creating a computer system to better track abuse and neglect cases, said DSHS spokeswoman Kathy Spears.

Lindeblad, considered one of the agency's top Medicaid experts, will help shepherd DSHS through recent federally mandated health-care changes, Spears said. Lindeblad will also continue the agency's push to create more long-term care options for seniors.

Adult homes are a key component of the state's strategy to cut costs for low-income seniors. DSHS has licensed nearly 3,000 to provide board and care for up to six adults. The homes are less regulated and less costly than nursing homes.

The Times filed a public-records lawsuit against DSHS in August that alleged the agency failed to turn over thousands of public records about its efforts to relocate low-income seniors from nursing homes into adult family homes. The suit is pending.

The vast majority of adult homes are well-run and provide personalized care in familiar neighborhood settings, said Cindi Laws, executive director of the Washington State Residential Care Council of Adult Family Homes.

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She said the trade group welcomes the leadership change and supports efforts to bolster licensing and training standards.

DSHS Secretary Susan Dreyfus said in a statement Friday: "Now more than ever we need to be working together so that we can continue to move forward as a department that is committed to our most vulnerable citizens and to ensure that all people live safely."

Michael J. Berens: mberens@seattletimes.com or 206-464-2288.

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