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Personal care home regulations and licensing under the microscope in Mississippi

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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) – The question of how Mississippi handles licensing personal care homes came up after the fire that killed three people in an unlicensed personal care home in Jackson.

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If that home had been licensed, they would’ve undergone surveys from the Mississippi State Department of Health every other year. There are still ways for complaints to be filed and investigated if the facility is unlicensed. But the details get a little complicated.

“People operate unlicensed person care homes all over the state,” said Polly Tribble, Disability Rights Mississippi Director. “And there’s no penalty for that. That’s the frustrating thing.”

Wait, no penalty? How’s that? We combed through the state law and regulations and learned that unless there are four or more people unrelated to the operator being cared for in the home, a license isn’t required. Sen. Sollie Norwood has filed bills in the past to close the gap in state law and plans to try again in the upcoming session.

“You need to be licensed,” said Norwood. “Foster care homes are licensed. All your basic homes are licensed. This is no exception. And it should be if you if you’re taking care of one person, that person should be guaranteed a safe and secure place to you know, to live and to and to, you know, and to grow.”

Disability Rights Mississippi Director Polly Tribble says money’s still flowing through those homes, even if unlicensed.

“Most of the people in these personal care homes are getting Social Security benefits,” she explained. “And oftentimes, those personal care home operators are the representative payee for that person. So they’re getting their check, basically.”

It’s a moneymaking scenario that also worries Rep. Earle Banks.

“Some of these places that I’ve seen just take their money, give them a minimum of food for existence or send them for lunches or whatever, and they’re not taking care of these people,” noted Banks.

Mississippi’s still caught up in a federal court battle about how there needs to be more community-based services for those with mental health needs and not just institutionalize them. But there’s a need that those are quality services to keep people from ending up on the streets.

“I think we need to start it on legislature and actually define better what a personal care home is and what kind of services people can expect when they go,” added Tribble.

As it relates to mental health-related cases, the state will not release patients from an institution to an unlicensed facility. But Disability Rights Mississippi tells me they often see them moved to another facility operated by the same unlicensed people.

For information on filing a complaint about a personal care home, click HERE.

The Mississippi Department of Health tells us that when they receive a complaint through their complaint/triage unit of an unlicensed personal care home, their Personal Care Home division notifies the Attorney General’s Office and Disability Rights of Mississippi who investigates the complaint.

MSDH is available to assist if residents need placement from the facility. They tell us that if they receive a complaint on a facility with three or fewer unrelated residents residing in a home and it is non-licensed, they report it to the DHS.

Although most of the regulations and enforcement go through MSDH, the Attorney General’s Office says there are times they get complaints, and their Medicaid Fraud Control Unit works with MSDH on those. For complaints related to abuse, neglect, or exploitation, the form can be found at https://www.ago.state.ms.us/divisions/medicaid-fraud-control-unit/. You can also call the Attorney General’s Office and ask for the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit at 601-359-3680.

Copyright 2021 WLBT. All rights reserved.

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