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The Takeaway: Personal Care Homes - An Exposé in Georgia Lays Bare the Ugly Truth

Many of us worry about ending up in a nursing home, a fear that surely has to do with the shocking stories we've read over the years: neglect and abuse at the hands of caregivers, the inappropriate use of antipsychotics to drug residents into submission or stupor, the lack of adequate oversight by regulators at all levels.

Now, from Georgia, comes an equally disturbing look at licensed personal care homes in that state. These facilities - which are little more than boarding houses, really - provide lodging, food, bathing and other grooming services for some of the state's most vulnerable residents: the disabled, elderly, or mentally ill. Many are operated out of homes in residential neighborhoods. Two reporters at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution examined five years worth of inspections, violations, and enforcement actions and found that state regulators have allowed serious deficiencies in care, living conditions and record-keeping to pile up at scores of the state's 2,000 or personal care homes. Little wonder: Georgia's Department of Community Health, which regulates the facilities, has only 19 inspectors.

One personal care home, the reporters found, had 166 violations (including soiled toilets and live cockroaches in the kitchen) over five years - and a manager with a criminal record. Another was assessed a $601 fine after its staff failed for several days running to provide a resident with required medicines for diabetes and heart disease; the resident was hospitalized and died about a week later.

It's a sorry picture. So imagine the irony of a call the same day, in Pennsylvania, for moving thousands of the state's nursing-home residents into personal care homes. "This lower cost option," Ron Barth, the president of a trade association that represents the facilities, argues in an op-ed piece for the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, "would save taxpayers as much as $90 million a year."

Maybe. But at what real cost?

Wednesday Quick Hits

  • Ashes to asteroids? The first-of-its-kind commercial rocket blasted off yesterday with some especially precious extra cargo: "symbolic" portions of the cremated remains of 308 souls, including actor James Doohan, who played Scotty on the original "Star Trek" series, and Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper.
  • John Pittas' mother went to a Pennsylvania nursing home for rehabilitation after an automobile accident and on discharge moved out of the country, leaving her $93,000 bill unpaid. Now the nursing home is suing her son to collect the money, Forbes reports, under the state's "filial responsibility law." Twenty-nine states have similar laws.
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is launching a national campaign to persuade older Americans to register as organ, eye, and tissue donors. In 2011, HHS points out, people 50 and older accounted for 32 percent of donors but 60 percent of all transplants.
  • Financial advisers should avoid the "R" word with older clients who are not in a "pre-retirement mindset," Chris Brown, a principal of the consulting firm Hearts & Wallets, advises. Recommended alternatives include "filling the gap," "income stream," and "a kiss in the mail." That last one, for the uninitiated, means a pension check.
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