A Preliminary Report issued today by Disability Rights Mississippi (DRMS) indicates that abuse and exploitation of residents of personal care homes is widespread throughout the state.
State agencies are aware of the problems, but have failed to remedy them. According to Ann Maclaine, Executive Director of DRMS, a non-profit organization charged with protection of individuals with disabilities, a fragmented and unresponsive system has failed to protect these individuals. The announcement comes on the heels of the death by exposure of a personal care home resident in Jackson during the recent cold weather. The situation for other personal care residents is bleak - many continue to sleep on cardboard boxes, in unfinished shacks or sheds with exposed wiring, in rooms invaded by bugs and animals. They often receive no hot meals and very little, if any, medical attention, despite the fact that the home operators, many of whom are unlicensed and all of whom are inadequately monitored, take virtually all the residents' income plus food stamps to allow them to stay.
The Preliminary Report summarizes DRMS investigations into personal care homes, also known as boarding homes and group homes, which began in July 2009, and included in-depth investigations into homes located in Indianola, Hattiesburg, Purvis and Gulfport. These investigations revealed neglect, abuse, and/or exploitation of the residents in a variety of areas.
"These homes are located throughout the state" stated Tony Sheppard, Lead Personal Care Home Investigator for DRMS. "They generally house from three to 15 people but can have over 50. In most all the homes, the operator acts as the representative payee for the residents. This means they have control over the residents' monies with little or no oversight. They can charge whatever they want for rent, and usually this means it costs the residents every penny of their disability checks including food stamps." Sheppard said. Some homes are subjected to licensing by the Health Department while others operate with complete impunity, Sheppard stated.
These facilities provide housing, food and care to individuals who are unable to live independently but who do not need institutional or skilled nursing care. Residents of homes all have physical, emotional, or intellectual disabilities and receive disability benefits. Many cannot manage their own funds. These vulnerable individuals often do not have family members or friends who can advocate for them. In many instances the individuals will not talk about the abuse or poor living conditions for fear of losing their last and only remaining home. They do not know that they have other options.
According to the report, DRMS has contacted Mississippi authorities including the Health Department (county and State), Attorney General's Office, Department of Human Services, Department of Mental Health and in some cases, city/county law enforcement officials, State Fire Marshalls, city zoning officers and sanitation engineers, and the Social Security Administration advising of the situations and requesting help.
"Very little has been done by any agency to investigate or alleviate the situation," Sheppard said. "The Department of Human Services is charged with the responsibility of investigating allegations of adult abuse and neglect and operates a report hotline. However they wait 48 hours to begin and must notify the home operator before they come into a home. A 48-hour delay would have been too long for the lady that died last week. Basically, everyone knows the problems are there but no one knows how to fix them."
The limitations of the 48 hour standard were illustrated by a situation that developed on January 8, 2010, when the DHS Hotline received a report of individuals with disabilities living in a Jackson personal care home without heat. Upon inquiry, DRMS was told that DHS had up to 48 hours to investigate. This was the two nights after the Jackson resident's death due to exposure, and the temperature was expected to be 16 degrees that night. DRMS subsequently sent a team to the home who prompted home owners to remedy the situation.
It is the goal of DRMS to protect those housed in personal care homes by identifying problems with the system and bringing the responsible agencies together to create an effective coordinated solution. "So far we have met with limited success dealing with state agencies but we do not intend to quit," Maclaine said. "We will continue to investigate allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation and seek a coordinated response by state officials to insure safe, adequate housing for all."
DRMS believes all personal care homes should be licensed and monitored by a governing authority, with the adoption of regulations and minimum standards for all facilities. Training should be required of all owners and operators on the standards as well as on human rights. The report contains numerous specific recommendations, most of which DRMS believes can and should be implemented immediately.
To report a situation within a personal care home that needs investigation, call DRMS at 800-772-4057 or 601-981-8207
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