The state’s main health agency said Thursday that it has formed a partnership with the GBI to crack down on unlicensed personal care homes.
Clyde Reese, the commissioner of the Department of Community Health, told the agency’s board that the partnership, which includes Adult Protective Services from the Department of Human Services, will mount “an aggressive effort to put [unlicensed homes] out of business.”
These facilities deliver “substandard care to the elderly and disabled,’’ Reese said.
The problems of unlicensed facilities and elder abuse are growing in the state, he told GHN. These unlicensed homes exist all across the state, with many in the metro Atlanta and southwest Georgia areas, he added.
Reese also said Thursday that Community Health will rebid the contract for care coordination of the elderly and people with disabilities in the Medicaid program.
The current contracting process was shelved last week because bids came in “over budget,” according to state officials. (Here’s a GHN article about the bid.) The rebidding of the contract to serve “the aged, blind and disabled’’ category will begin next month, and Community Health will give more details about the savings goals it seeks, Reese said.
And the agency said it will announce by July 1 the winners of a new round of bidding to deliver medical services to the State Health Benefit Plan next year. The benefits plan for state employees, teachers, other school personnel, retirees and dependents has been the target of widespread criticism since changes were instituted Jan. 1.
In the wake of the furor over the changes, state officials aim to increase the number of insurers and health plan options for state employees and teachers next year.
Unlicensed personal care homes have been a problem in Georgia for years. Many of their residents are frail seniors and unable to defend themselves from abuse.
Earlier this year, the Georgia General Assembly passed legislation, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), toughening penalties for operating an unlicensed personal care home, raising a first offense involving abuse or neglect or exploitation to a felony.
Marietta Police Chief Dan Flynn told lawmakers in February about two cases of abuse in unlicensed Cobb County homes. In one case, Flynn said, a woman in her 50s with dementia was kept in a garage in a “sweltering hot” home and was deprived of food and medicine.
The owner in that case, after a plea bargain, was given just a one-day sentence, with credit for time served, Flynn said.
Reese said such owners often get an elderly individual to sign over their Social Security and retirement checks to them.
“We estimate there are hundreds [of these facilities] around the state,’’ Reese told GHN. Many switch residences quickly to avoid regulators after complaints are made, he added.
The GBI will help Community Health officials by sharing its intelligence-gathering and data capabilities, he said.
Kathy Floyd, executive director of the Georgia Council on Aging, said Thursday that a multiagency effort has focused new attention on unlicensed homes over the past two years.
“I’ve been so impressed with [GBI] Director Vernon Keenan and his commitment to addressing these issues,’’ Floyd said.
Public awareness of elder abuse increased in Georgia since last year’s raid on a Commerce facility that housed Alzheimer’s patients.
Authorities raided Alzheimer’s Care of Commerce in July following allegations that staff members there had assaulted, forcibly restrained and over-medicated patients.
The center, which employed convicted felons, is also under investigation for the possibility that some deaths were homicides.
The owner and 20 employees were arrested following the raid.
Separately, Gov. Nathan Deal on Thursday announced that Bobby Cagle will become the interim director of the Division of Family and Children Services, leaving his position as commissioner of the Department of Early Care and Learning.
DFCS has recently struggled with a food stamp application backlog and high caseloads for child welfare workers.
Cagle will replace Sharon Hill as director. She is leaving the post to serve at the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget.