State needs more resources devoted to oversight of adult family homes
A recent personnel change at the state Department of Social and Health Services won't resolve the challenges facing Washington's adult family home industry, write these advocates on behalf of older people and people with disabilities. The Legislature must devote more resources to oversight.
Special to The Times
AS longtime advocates on behalf of older people and people with disabilities, we want to set the record straight about the contributions and accomplishments of Kathy Leitch, assistant secretary of state Department of Social and Health Services Aging and Disability Services Administration, and urge the state not to lose sight of the vision she set for the future of long-term care in Washington.
The Seattle Times recently reported on a leadership change at the Washington Department of Social and Health Services ["DSHS demotes states' adult-homes chief," Oct. 16, 2010].
Kathy Leitch isn't a household name but many households in Washington have greatly benefitted from her tireless work on behalf of seniors over the past 30 years. For decades, Leitch has been helping to steer Washington away from expensive nursing-home care and toward less-expensive home- and community-based services that people prefer.
When Leitch first started with the state, Washington's nursing-home population was more than double what it is today. People who rely on Medicaid now have the option of staying at home with the help of a home-care worker and other supports.
We disagree with the suggestion that removing Leitch from her post is a first step toward solving quality of care problems in our state's adult family homes. As her boss, DSHS Secretary Susan Dreyfus directly told advocates hours after the publication of The Times article, "Nothing could be further from the truth!"
The examples of despicable treatment noted in earlier Times articles are the primary fault of unscrupulous operators of those homes. The oversight system is not perfect, and in the instances described in The Times stories, egregious situations occurred. No one could defend those situations, and no one attempted to do so.
To credibly monitor and oversee a system, funding is needed. Unfortunately, a provision in the last legislative session that would have increased adult family home fees in order to pay for improved oversight was defeated.
In the 2011 session, legislators must increase licensing fees for adult family homes so we can afford more-robust oversight. The recession-driven $4 billion budget deficit creates pressure for deep cuts to programs that vulnerable people rely on, and this fiscal year we are already facing a 10 percent reduction in home-care hours and a 30 percent reduction in senior services such as Meals on Wheels and transportation funded through the Senior Citizens Services Act.
Chipping away at home- and community-based supports will cause many seniors to go downhill and feel they have no other option but to move to a nursing home. We need to maintain services that work and also to think creatively about how to better integrate and coordinate services.
Physicians, nurses, home-care workers, Area Agencies on Aging and social-service providers have the same goal: keeping people healthy, safe and independent. These players should be part of the same community team, not placed in silos that don't always communicate with each other.
For years, advocates, elected officials and a cast of many in local aging networks and at DSHS have worked to refine and improve services so vulnerable people in Washington have support when they need it the most. Kathy Leitch deserves our appreciation for her decades of commitment and contributions. We will build on her successes.
Victoria Doerper is a member of the Washington State Association of Area Agencies on Aging executive committee. Ingrid McDonald is advocacy director for AARP. Louise Ryan is the Washington State Long-Term Care Ombudsman.
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