DSHS strives for continued improvement in Washington's long-term care system
State officials are concerned about issues raised in The Seattle Times series, "Seniors for Sale", about the adult family home industry, writes Susan N. Dreyfus, secretary of Washington's Department of Social and Health Services. Many improvements have been made and more are coming.
Special to The Times
I WANT to thank The Seattle Times for its series on long-term care and the serious questions raised about the safety of adult family homes in our state ["Seniors for Sale: Exploiting the aged and frail in Washington's adult family homes," News, Jan. 31-Feb. 2]. Millions of families, including my own, have faced difficult decisions about the care and safety of our loved ones.
I helped my father-in-law during his last years of life. While I always relied on the licensing and regulatory functions of the state to work as they are intended, I had to fully participate and advocate for his care, which is something all families must do.
Our long-term care system is looked to nationally for its consumer-driven policy foundation. Quality adult family homes are one of the important options we need as part of a safe, quality system of care. Contrary to what was stated in a Times article, we don't have "quotas" for moving residents to community settings, and seniors are not "for sale." The decision to move into an adult family home is a consumer's choice. We need to provide consistent regulatory oversight and to help individuals and families get the information they need to make informed choices and to be strong advocates for their loved ones.
The governor and I are very concerned over the issues raised in the Times series and take seriously the safety of our vulnerable citizens. Less than 10 percent of the licensed adult family homes in our state have significant enforcement actions against them. While that is still too much, the vast majority of homes are providing their residents safe, appropriate care and it is important that we keep this in mind as we make needed improvements to the system.
While the cases reported in the stories were very serious, they occurred before many improvements were made to our adult family home system under Gov. Chris Gregoire's leadership. Specifically, we now have a data-tracking system that allows us to track compliance history across settings (types of homes and licenses) and we have created protocols for quality investigations, including random checks on those investigations.
While we already require providers to share inspection reports with residents, we will be modifying the rules so that these inspections are posted within homes. I have sent a letter to all adult family homes asking them to make this change now. Further, we will be posting enforcement letters online for anyone to review at any time.
I have met with the Washington Realtors and the State Residential Care Council to take action that will educate Realtors and providers regarding the sale of adult family homes. We have reminded all providers of our existing requirement that they give residents 30 days notice of the sale of a home and of the residents' right to decide whether they want to stay in the home. We want that notice period extended to 60 days. Advertisements implying that residents of adult family homes are part of a sale are inaccurate and the Department of Social and Health Services does not condone them.
I look forward to working with our many partners across the state and the Legislature as we work for continued improvement in our long-term-care system. Vulnerable citizens must be protected and it will take all of us to get this done. If you believe someone is being abused or neglected or you believe there is a facility that is either operating without a license or is not a quality facility, please call 1-866-END HARM.
DSHS is changing, as all of government needs to reset itself for the future. We must and will focus to be transparent, accountable and better partners. The public expects and deserves the delivery of quality programs and services that deliver the impact they are intended to achieve.Susan N. Dreyfus is secretary of the Washington Department of Social and Health Services.
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