Gov. Wolf: Executive Order to Protect Vulnerable Pennsylvanians Yielding Results

September 19, 2019

Harrisburg, PA – In late July, Governor Tom Wolf signed an executive order that outlined an overhaul of the state services and systems to protect the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians. Today, his administration provided an update on progress by announcing multiple changes put in place in the Department of Human Services (DHS).

“State agencies involved in protecting vulnerable Pennsylvanians are working to overhaul outdated or inadequate systems, protocols and processes. We are going to find substantive ways to transform these systems to hold ourselves and institutions to higher operation standards. We must ensure better and more accountable services to those for which they protect and care,” Gov. Wolf said. “The systematic changes we are announcing today are just the first step in a commitment to doing a better job of protecting our most vulnerable populations.”

The updates announced today include:

Stronger Accountability for Institutions
An integral part of DHS’s responsibilities is the inspection and issuance of licenses for facilities that provide services to, house, or otherwise help vulnerable populations. DHS-led inspections of facilities result in a license renewal or, in some cases, a plan of correction for a facility to be fully compliant with the department.

For too long, there were no standardized timeframes in establishing a plan of correction following the identification of a violation during an inspection. New processes will include verification of timely compliance with and implementation of a plan of correction, and commencement of a licensure action against a provider who does not timely comply with that plan.

DHS issued a bulletin on July 15, 2019, outlining these processes and followed that with training webinars for providers during the last two weeks of July. Nearly 4,000 people participated. The bulletin becomes effective October 1, 2019.

“By issuing this bulletin and offering companion training to providers, DHS is clarifying and standardizing the processes that should occur after a licensing violation is identified, further protecting vulnerable Pennsylvanians by ensuring facilities providing care are not operating with extended violations in need of correction,” DHS Sec. Teresa Miller said.

Implementing a Single Child Welfare Case Management System
On August 28, 2019, the Child Welfare Case Management Steering Team, with representation from the Department of Human Services Secretary’s Office, Office of Children, Youth and Families (OCYF), the Health and Human Services Delivery Center, Pennsylvania Children and Youth Administrators, the Child Welfare Resource Center, and 18 counties held its kickoff meeting as the first step toward the implementation of a single case management system that offers wide-ranging support for at-risk children. Counties represented include Allegheny, Armstrong, Berks, Bucks, Cambria, Chester, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Juniata, Lackawanna, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, Sullivan, Warren, and Wayne.

“By gathering our staff and listening to the perspectives and ideas of multiple counties and providers, we know this steering team will be productive,” Sec. Miller said. “We will continue to engage with these 18 counties – and more – as we move toward conversion from their existing systems to a single case management system, because we know an ongoing, open dialogue is key to this transformative process.”

Steering Team meetings are scheduled every two weeks for the next three months. DHS continues to invite counties to be part of smaller working groups as part of the steering committee.

Seeking the Best Complex-Need Care Models
Earlier this month, DHS announced a Request for Information (RFI) to assist in identifying the best possible care models for individuals with complex clinical and behavioral conditions. The most common example of individuals who fall within this target population are those transitioning from corrections facilities who need long-term care support, may have a history of violence or sex offenses, or may exhibit severe behavioral health conditions.

Without access to appropriate and supportive services, including long-term care services, these individuals often face severe health risks, including physical injury and death, homelessness, isolation, or potential correctional recidivism.

DHS is seeking to build an infrastructure to effectively serve people before they face a crisis. Responses to this RFI will aid DHS in identifying and developing best practices and to improve person-centered service planning and care in order to more effectively address the needs of this population.

“We are committed to ensuring that our most vulnerable populations are taken care of and looked after, but too often these populations struggle to find proper care opportunities,” said DHS Secretary Teresa Miller. “Leveraging partnerships with providers across the state is a critical piece of creating a network to support individuals with complex needs.”

“The path to incarceration is often rife with trauma, addiction, mental illness and lack of meaningful educational opportunities,” Department of Corrections Sec. John Wetzel said. “Focusing on vulnerable populations is exactly what we need to proactively help individuals before they get criminally involved, while aiding individuals who are criminally involved to get out of the system and into a safe, community setting.”.

The RFI is available online. DHS is requesting that all responses to this RFI be submitted by 12 p.m. on the September 28, 2019. Responses must be submitted electronically to the following email account with “Complex Case Placement RFI” in the email subject line: RA-PWRFICOMMENTS@PA.GOV

Increasing Human Trafficking Awareness
According to the National Human Trafficking hotline data, 199 human trafficking cases have been reported in Pennsylvania in 2018 alone. The federal Preventing Sex Trafficking & Strengthening Families Act mandates that County Children and Youth Agencies implement protocols for expeditiously locating children missing from out-of-home care and for screening whether a child under the supervision of the state was a victim of sex or labor trafficking.

DHS’s OCYF realized a need to inform all those who interact with someone who might have been a human trafficking victim on the best practices related to screening and assessment of victims, addressing their physical and mental health needs, and determining placement, treatment and services for them. To address this, OCYF Bulletin # 3130-19-04, entitled Serving Child Victims of Human Trafficking, will be issued by October 1.

The bulletin highlights federal and state requirements around human trafficking reporting and includes examples of trafficking screening and assessment tools that can be used by those in the field to help identify victims and determine their individual needs.

“This practice guide is a critical component that can now help all those involved with potential human trafficking victims understand the key signs for identifying potential victims and how to best serve their unique needs,” said Sec. Miller. “Services that provide safe housing and meet victims’ basic needs, intensive case management, and education or life skills and job training are part of the guide to help these victims live healthful, fulfilling lives.”

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