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Originally published Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 4:04 PM

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Oversight overdue for referral services for elder care

Gov. Chris Gregoire should sign legislation making Washington the first state to get tough on unregulated placement services that are paid hefty commissions by adult homes and elder-care facilities desperate to fill empty beds.

quotes The Times has shown a consistent bias in covering this issue. Where are the consumer... Read more
quotes As someone who has seen the abuse first-hand, there is no better time than now to enact... Read more
quotes Go back and watch the hearings on this bill. You'll find more than 'one' complaint. A... Read more

GOV. Chris Gregoire should sign legislation making Washington the first state to get tough on the fast-growing but unregulated arena of elder-care referrals.

If ever a dark corner needed the bright light of regulation it is the placement services paid hefty commissions by adult homes and elder-care facilities desperate to fill empty beds. Many families have been unwittingly steered to homes that pay the highest commission — an average of $3,500 per person in King County.

But, as an award-winning series by Seattle Times reporter Michael J. Berens recounted, many placement agencies fail to screen adult homes for past violations. The result is that hundreds of seniors have been referred to homes with histories of substandard care, even fatalities.

Oversight for those raking in profits is overdue.

This is only one aspect of the needed clampdown on the adult-home industry, where enormous growth has been accompanied by complaints of neglect and harm.

Two bills in the state Legislature also help monitor this industry. House Bill 1277 and Senate Bill 5092 would improve regulation and oversight of these homes. An increase in annual licensing fees, from $100 to $2,500, is significant but necessary. The state Department of Social and Health Services cannot oversee a fast-growing industry without hiring more investigators and other personnel.

Adult family homes are attractive options that offer clients homelike settings. For the state, these placements are less expensive than other residential care, such as nursing homes. Left unregulated, adult family homes offer fiscal prudence at too high a cost.

Do not buy the argument from the adult-home lobby that higher fees mean our loved ones will be forced to do without heat, food or adequately trained staff. Both bills increase Medicaid reimbursements to make up for the licensing-fee increase. Costs passed on to private-pay residents would come out to $1 a day. This industry must pay the full costs of doing business, including regulation and oversight.

This issue should not get lost in the budget-focused special session.

Concern is not overwrought here. A proposed fee increase in last year's state budget was pulled at the last minute. Lawmakers must persevere this time.

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