Wolf announces reforms to state regulation of child, adult care facilities

Gov. Tom Wolf signing the executive order. Acknowledging long-standing issues with existing state systems, Wolf by executive order announced that an overhaul of the state services and systems to protect the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians begins July 31 2019. (Wolf administration photo)

With an eye on improving conditions for vulnerable Pennsylvanians — everyone from children to the disabled and the elderly — Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order Wednesday to reform internal policies while seeking suggestions for further action by fall.

Citing the “Kids for Cash” scandal — where two judges took millions in kickbacks from private juvenile detention operators — to ongoing issues with elder abuse in nursing homes, Wolf said that “we need to acknowledge the problems of the past so we can build a better government.”

The executive order establishes a 25-member council representing local government, community advocates, health care providers and state cabinet officials among others to discuss policies and make suggestions to “improve the support and protection of vulnerable populations,” according to the order.

They will issue a report of their findings by Nov. 1.

The executive order also ordered state agencies to make a number of other reforms. They include:

  • Reducing the institutionalization of children and adults at residential treatment facilities and nursing homes among other care facilities
  • Implementing a statewide child welfare system
  • Sharing licensing and incident reports at care facilities between departments
  • Standardizing compliance measures for care facilities that aren’t up to state standards
  • A stronger, more timely referral process to investigate abuse allegations
  • Using data analysis to provide additional oversight to high risk care providers

Wolf said that his “sense is if we do this right, we can do a better job for less.” He added there is no upfront cost to the order.

The program also creates an Office of Advocacy and Reform to oversee the executive order and implement its measures.

The executive order echoes a measure pushed by two lawmakers — Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, and Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, to create a child welfare reform commission. Both praised Wolf’s step in a statement, but wanted to see independent legislative action.

“Given the unacceptable number of tragedies experienced in recent years, and the documented shortcomings in the child protection system, there is a need for the sort of initiatives the governor is advancing,” Baker said in the statement. “We also need the thorough and extensive inquiry that an independent interbranch commission can provide, so that will continue to be a priority.”

A House Republican spokesperson did not reply to a request for comment.

Wolf added that improving conditions for the most vulnerable could mean that taking a look at General Assistance, a program cut this year by the Republican-controlled General Assembly as part of budget negotiations.

General Assistance provided small cash payments to the permanently disabled and those in drug treatment.

“That subset of vulnerable population that needs help. What’s the best way we can do that? I’m hoping that’s something [the council] can make some recommendations for,” Wolf said.

The General Assistance program is set to eliminated Thursday, Aug. 1.

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