THE CAPITAL EDITORIAL BOARD Failure to inspect assisted-living facilities is shameful

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Our Say: Failure to inspect assisted-living facilities is shameful

Published August 28, 2007
Four years ago, in one of the most appalling cases of neglect state officials had ever seen, an 84-year-old woman was removed from a Millersville assisted-living center, only to die two days later. According to a story first published in The Capital, she had ghastly bedsores covering much of her body, gangrene in both legs, and maggots in exposed bone in one of her feet.
State law requires annual inspection of Maryland’s licensed assisted-living facilities. But last week we learned from a state legislative audit that in the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2006, the state health department failed to inspect 1,139 of the 1,567 facilities – 73 percent.
In addition, as of last November, inspections had not been conducted for most of the 337 unlicensed assisted-living facilities that had applied for licenses as far back as 1998.

Assisted-living centers are smaller operations than nursing homes, usually with five to 16 beds. They offer a home-style setting for elderly patients who generally do not need round-the-clock care.

In spite of the huge number of facilities __ not to mention the dozens that operate illegally without licenses __ the Office of Health Care Quality of the state health department has only 24 “surveyors” to conduct inspections and investigate complaints.

State health officials admit that they are overwhelmed and can’t comply with the law. And the number of assisted-living centers is sure to grow as baby boomers age.

Last year, in an attempt to get more funding, the office provided a report to legislators detailing poor treatment in some assisted-living centers.

The accounts in it, going by published reports, should give nightmares to anyone whose aging parent is under someone else’s care. One assisted-living resident was left on a hot porch until that person’s temperature reached 107 degrees. Others were locked in a boiler room for misbehaving.

Many assisted-living centers do a creditable job of taking care of some of Maryland’s most vulnerable citizens. But in the last five years the state has been forced to close 40 facilities because of abuses.

Apparently nothing in these reports suggested to the legislators that funding for more inspectors should be singled out from among the hundreds of other requests for more money. Yet, lawmakers always seem to be able to find money for Italian tile to refurbish their legislative digs, or to send state employees on one more junket.

There will be a massive budget crunch next year. But the governor and state lawmakers need to put such human needs first when they are setting spending priorities. It would be unconscionable for state officials not to find the money to enhance inspections of assisted-living centers. Suppose it were their parents?

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