An Interview with Catherine Strode
State Senator Irene Aguilar and State Representative Dan Pabon are co-sponsoring a bill to implement a fire safety oversight system for individual residential services. House Bill 18-1376 is a response to the tragic host home fire which resulted in fatalities nearly two years ago. The bill has passed the House Public Health Care and Human Services Committee and has been referred to Appropriations.
In an interview with Catherine Strode, Senator Aguilar says the bill supports providers for persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities by creating awareness of the need to set safety standards for vulnerable populations who receive services from the state.
Why is this bill necessary?
“There was a fire in a host home in which a number of lives were lost. Having seen that happen, we wanted to do more to ensure the safety of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are living in host homes. Unfortunately, often our regulations apply only to larger host homes and facilities. This was a gap that was identified to cover the smaller host homes and facilities. It (HB 18-1376) is for private homes or host homes where there are three or less unrelated people living together. They are living together and their services are being paid for by the Home and Community Based services program. If you only have one or two people who are not related to you living in your home, this would count. This would mean you would have to uphold a certain living safety standard to ensure safety if there was an emergency.”
Why has it taken this long to introduce this bill?
“We are always given pressure here at the state around how much we regulate things. There are certain subsets of our population that feel we overregulate and micromanage things. There is always a push back. There are some folks who feel regulations are passed to be anti-competitive and keep people from getting into the marketplace. This was a small enough number of people living together that we didn’t want it to seem like you can never lead an ordinary life. The federal regulations covered bigger homes and no one sat back and thought, ‘What does that mean for the smaller homes?’ The tragic events brought it to the forefront. We have identified a gap and now we see there are reasons for this gap. I cannot help but read this bill, and what it is trying to do, and think about some of the regulations that are being passed for Assisted Living facilities in our state. We’re getting pushback from people who have Assisted Living facilities with 10 or fewer people in them saying, ‘All these rules are too big. They are going to cost too much money.’ When you have vulnerable people living together who are reliant on other people to protect their safety and welfare, you need a different standard. Those people may not know how to respond to an alarm going off or when you’re shouting directions because there is chaos. They might not understand what is going on in these smaller homes. You may not have enough manpower to really get them out in time.”
What oversight system is proposed?
“The state department will have standards and requirements for the providers. An onsite survey, in order to ensure compliance with the standards, must be undertaken every two years. If they are not in compliance, they will be asked to do corrective actions to bring them back into compliance. It’s asking that a report be brought back to the Health Committees on what the impact has been: whether the problems have been identified, whether the guidelines are adequate, and whether additional guidelines are needed. The providers have to sign some kind of affidavit saying they are following the rules. Specifically, the formal rules will list specific standards that need to be included like talking to fire departments and telling them, ‘We have people who cannot evacuate on their own.’ Most likely, the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing will ask the Department of Public Health and Environment to implement these rules because they do the inspections for Medicaid. Secondly, surprise inspections are great to randomly ensure that the populations we as a state are responsible for, are being adequately cared for.”
What do you hope the impact of the bill would be?
“It’s funny because the Humane Society gives you stickers to let you know there’s an animal in the home. But there’s not been that same education about letting Public Safety (officials) know about people in your home who might need extra help. I think just having this out there will bring awareness to people thinking about the safety of someone who is vulnerable. When there is an opportunity for safe exit and safe rescue, we will have done the appropriate things to be sure that the people in our state who are getting services through us are safe.”
Catherine Strode is Advocacy Denver’s Communications and Policy Specialist. She holds a Masters degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Health Care Policy. Catherine publishes Policy Perspective, featuring interviews with state policy makers on issues that affect the work and mission of Advocacy Denver.