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Disabilities

Health data thefts a continuing problem

A state agency says Georgia consumers’ personal data has not been compromised so far in the wake of a theft of a laptop computer that contained some people’s health information.

The computer was stolen from the vehicle of an employee of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities who was attending a Clayton County conference in August. The laptop contained health information on 3,397 individuals who receive services from the agency.

Stethoscope on a computer keyboardA majority of these patients get services in the Columbus region, DBHDD said.

The health information included people’s names, addresses and phone numbers, dates of birth, names of guardians, marital status, Social Security numbers and Medicaid numbers, as well as diagnostic and behavioral data.

The agency said Thursday that there are no signs that anyone’s data has been used or accessed.

Data breaches in health care are not uncommon in the United States. full story

Report: Disabilities system reform needs more work

State health officials have major work ahead to meet a July 2015 deadline with the federal government on improving care for Georgians with mental illness and developmental disabilities.

dbhdd-logo-blueThat’s a key message of a report this month from an independent reviewer regarding the state’s five-year settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, reached in 2010.

The state has improved the mental health system significantly, with “increased access to affordable housing, competitive employment, clinical and peer supports and crisis services,” said the Sept. 15 report by the reviewer, Elizabeth Jones.

And overall, the report continued, Georgia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) has shown “a good faith effort” to ensure the terms of the settlement agreement have been met.

But the state “remains out of compliance” with services for the developmentally disabled, Jones said. full story

Feds slam care at Augusta facility for disabled

A federal agency has warned Georgia officials that it will end Medicaid payments to an Augusta facility for the developmentally disabled unless the state improves conditions there.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), in an August report, said the state-run Gracewood Developmental Center has repeatedly failed to ensure the safety of patients, who have been subjected to physical and verbal abuse.

dbhdd-logo-blueGracewood patients “sustained physical injuries of unknown origin and/or verbal abuse that were not thoroughly investigated,” the inspection report stated. “The facility continues to not have a system in place to ensure that the clients were not subjected to physical, verbal, and/or psychological abuse.”

The feds also described inadequate employee training and frequent failure to investigate possible instances of abuse.

The head of the facility has resigned, said Frank Berry, commissioner of the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), at an agency board meeting Aug. 28.

DBHDD, meanwhile, is overhauling its processes regarding people with developmental disabilities whom it serves.

The Aug. 26 letter from CMS comes as the state agency is under pressure over its care of these people, including moving patients out of state hospitals. full story

Nightmare for vulnerable: Unlicensed care homes

The investigation of a South Georgia unlicensed personal care home began with the report of a resident of the facility breaking into a nearby home to get food.

Law enforcement officials later raided the care facility, called Uplift, which housed people with mental illness and disabilities.

Sen. Renee Unterman

Sen. Renee Unterman

Conditions were horrifying.

“All these people were hungry,’’ said Morven Police Lt. Terry Griffin, according to a Valdosta Daily Times article. The facility was infested with insects, and there was no air conditioning.

State and local agencies helped transfer Uplift residents to other facilities. “People started clapping in the breezeway, even crying. They were so happy to leave,” Griffin said.

These relocations are becoming commonplace in Georgia. Since June, law enforcement and state officials have transferred a total of 55 people from 10 unlicensed personal care homes, including Uplift, members of a legislative committee were told Tuesday.

The state has seen an increase in complaints about alleged abuse of adults at such unlicensed facilities, state officials told the legislative Joint Study Committee on Emergency Relocation of Abused Adults, meeting in Lawrenceville.

“This issue we have to address,’’ said state Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, citing “unbelievable conditions’’ in some of the residences. full story

Medicaid change on long-term care delayed

A state health agency Thursday delayed approval of a change in the Medicaid eligibility system for people in long-term care whose incomes are above the government program’s thresholds.

The Department of Community Health’s board had been set to approve a switch for some lower-income Georgians — who now use “Qualified Income Trusts” (QITs) to qualify for Medicaid — to a “medically needy” eligibility program.

These people make too much money to qualify for regular Medicaid, but not enough money to pay for their health care needs.

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But consumer advocates have expressed concerns that the change in eligibility methods would help only people in nursing homes and institutional hospice programs — and not those with Medicaid “waivers’’ who live in community settings. The new policy could also limit people’s choices in long-term care arrangements, the advocacy groups say.

Department of Community Health (DCH) officials said Thursday that in delaying the board vote, they sought additional time before implementation. “We want to make sure it’s done right rather than fast,’’ said Jerry Dubberly, the Georgia Medicaid director. full story

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