Kary Hyre has displayed color photographs of bruised and battered boarding-home residents, and laid out what he calls a glaring lack of enforcement of safety and health rules in the homes for elderly and disabled citizens.
Still, for the third time in as many years, the Legislature appears to be rejecting the long-term care ombudsman’s prescription for big changes in the way the state’s 440 boarding homes are regulated. The homes, which have multiplied with the aging of the population, are woefully under-regulated, he says.
Hyre contends the culprit is the state Department of Health. In hearing after hearing, he has argued the agency lacks the means and ability to carry out the task of licensing, monitoring and, when necessary, shutting down errant homes. He contends the task should be handed over to the Department of Social and Health Services, which manages another kind of aged-care facility - adult family homes whose clients require more specialized care.
Health Department Secretary Bruce Miyahara says Hyre has overstated the problems at boarding homes and has wrongly denigrated the Health Department’s performance, especially lately.
“The overall assessment is that we have been doing a good job,” Miyahara said Monday. “There were some problems, but they have been corrected.”
It appears lawmakers are siding with Miyahara, saying they want to give him more time to address problems.
“That’s a lot cleaner than new legislation,” said House Majority Leader Barbara Lisk, R-Zillah. If Miyahara can show no progress by next year, “we’ll take care of it next time around,” she said.
Hyre’s proposal to hand over control of boarding homes to DSHS appears dead after the House last week failed to pass the bill by the deadline to move bills to the other chamber.
But Hyre hasn’t given up.
He hopes to persuade the Senate to revive the proposal, possibly by writing it into the still-to-be negotiated state budget.
“We appreciate that some changes are now occurring within the Department of Health,” including the addition of more staffers to inspect boarding homes, Hyre said in a letter last Friday to Gov. Gary Locke.
“But frankly, we have no confidence that these changes will be long-lasting.
“We still see the Department of Health reluctant to enforce its laws.”
In a report released last month, Hyre’s office said many of the problems in some of the boarding homes are due to inadequately trained workers, insufficient staffing and poor oversight.
The report also contended that the Health Department, which is responsible for protecting the homes’ 18,000 elderly and disabled residents, also seems unwilling to punish owners who break the rules.
The department has never fined a single boarding home for violations, said Jeff Crollard, lawyer for the ombudsman’s program.
The report details cases in which the department took no or seemingly minor action against homes, including one where a woman died after being scalded in a bathtub.
Hyre’s program is an independent watchdog organization funded by federal, state and local governments to monitor long-term care homes.