Newspaper Raises Concerns About Home Care

Monday, December 5th 2005, 10:03 am
By: News On 6

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ A lengthy emergency waiting list for residential services means that some mentally retarded people are being cared for in personal care homes where monitoring is lax, a newspaper found.

Such homes are not monitored as closely as nursing homes, and they are not always equipped to care for retarded people, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Sunday. And personal care homes have been found to house sexual offenders, too.

This summer, Pennsylvania Protection and Advocacy, a nonprofit agency that advocates for people with disabilities, found at least nine retarded adults who were living with up to six other non-retarded convicted sex offenders at the Green Acres Personal Care Home in Indiana County.

Agency officials asked the state's Office of Mental Retardation to investigate. In August, the state cited Green Acres for not having enough activities for residents and other minor offenses, but did not mention sex offenders and retarded people living together.

That's because Pennsylvania has no regulations prohibiting sex offenders from living with mentally retarded people in state-licensed facilities, nor does it require that personal care homes document that sex offenders live there, the paper found.

That would be an invasion of the sex offenders' privacy, said Department of Public Welfare spokeswoman Stacey Ward.

``If we do know of the placement of a resident where we know there is a registered sex offender, we will work with the facility to make sure they are not going to be a threat to the other residents,'' she said. After inspecting Green Acres, she said, they decided the residents were safe.

Protection and Advocacy found no proof of assaults, although one woman told them another resident had groped her under her dress.

Green Acres administrator Paul Zinzella told the paper he hasn't had any problems.

He said concerns about mentally retarded people living among sex offenders is ``kind of blown out of proportion'' and that the home does not have any violent sexual predators.

The paper found problems at other care homes.

In October, the state closed a Lebanon County personal care home after the death of resident Nancy Orlosky, 46. Autopsy results are pending.

Besides more than 40 fire and building code violations, Annville Township Police Chief Michael Burdge said he is investigating allegations that residents, many of them mentally impaired, were subjected to physical and sexual abuse.

``This has been a real eye-opener for me,'' Burdge said. ``The laws are just not there to protect these people in a personal care home, versus a nursing home.''

Besides the 2,921 Pennsylvanians with mental retardation in emergency need of housing, another 19,977 will need a place to live in coming years.

In 2000, then-Gov. Tom Ridge announced an $853 million initiative to reduce the list, but the effort stalled after he left to become federal secretary of homeland security.

With the economic downturn, tax revenues for addressing the list have been drying up, said Deputy Secretary of Public Welfare Kevin Casey, who heads the Office of Mental Retardation.

Casey said Gov. Ed Rendell ``has been pretty generous'' in allocating money to reduce the waiting list, but said he could not predict when everyone will get services.