Pricey Harrison

Friday, June 03, 2005

Inspections, Higher Fines For Group Homes Approved By Senate

Governor Mike Easley, the N. C. Department of Health and Human Services, and now the General Assembly are taking steps to improve the standards and care provided for mentally ill children in the state's 1,000 group homes. These homes would have to be inspected annually and could face double the current fines for violating safety regulations in a bill the Senate approved Wednesday. The bill comes two months after a lawsuit alleged that North Carolina is failing to protect mentally ill children living in group homes. The lawsuit was prompted by the September death of a 12-year-old Buncombe County girl in a Charlotte group home.

The bill, which now comes to the House for consideration, also would require adult care homes such as assisted living units to be inspected annually. The law now says they shall be inspected on "a regular basis." Home care agencies also would be inspected every three years, while a state commission would set minimum professional requirements for agency staff.

The state could assess civil penalties from $1,000 to $20,000 per violation - up from the current range of $500 to $10,000 - for adult care or group homes with at least seven beds where the death or serious injury of a patient has occurred. The similar doubling of fines was approved for smaller homes and for rule violations that don't jeopardize patient safety. The division also would require adult care homes and group homes to post the division's complaint hot line phone number in a conspicuous place. The Senate budget contains funding for new staff to complete these inspections.

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