Nobody can be everywhere at once, but it’s obvious the system in place to keep tabs on facilities that care for Michigan’s vulnerable adults falls woefully short.
For the second time this year, a Record-Eagle reporter has unearthed alarming reports by Michigan Licensing and Regulatory Affairs overseers that claim shortcomings at some local adult care facilities. This time, a LARA investigator reported that a man on parole from the Michigan Department of Corrections living on the grounds of Green Acres AFC in Blair Township repeatedly inappropriately touched a disabled resident.
Worse, the investigator claims employees in charge of the woman’s care knew about the assaults for months before they reported the behavior. For their part, representatives of the facility refuted the LARA investigator’s assertions about what they knew and when they knew it.
The man accused in the case was subsequently returned to MDOC custody and now faces fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct charges in Grand Traverse County.
The fact the assault occurred in the first place is troubling. More alarming is the system that seems capable only of reacting to such violations of vulnerable adults’ safety and security.
We were appalled to learn LARA has no records of which of its licensees run adjacent housing operations for parolees. Such a lack of communication between two state agencies seems at best negligent, and at worst, an act of deliberate ignorance.
We also were, once again, confronted with the woeful understaffing of an agency in charge of regulating facilities that house our most vulnerable neighbors.
That’s right, 55 state employees are responsible for 4,300 adult care facilities — caretaking businesses that only are inspected once every two years unless accusations of problems draws inspectors’ attention. That small cadre of overseers are forced into a position of relying almost solely on whistle blowing to alert them of problems at licensed facilities.
We can imagine many circumstances where crowd sourcing oversight makes sense, maybe for spotting potholes or looking out for invasive species in our forests and streams. But is that “see it, say it” mentality really working for vulnerable adults housed in adult care facilities?
There’s plenty of evidence it isn’t.
Many facility owners and operators do great work, and probably would provide top quality care regardless of how often inspectors walk through their doors. But those who don’t, theoretically, could go two years without intervention.
We wouldn’t accept such lax standards for child care facilities in Michigan, so why are we OK with such sparse oversight of our state’s vulnerable adults?
A few state officials have made overtures during the past few years about protecting our state’s elderly and disabled. We are left wondering what must happen to trigger meaningful action — things so simple as increasing staffing for inspections, or compelling two state departments to share housing information.
It’s clear relying on self-reporting and infrequent inspections by overworked overseers simply isn’t enough.