Acknowledging long-standing issues with existing state systems, PA Governor Tom Wolf by executive order announced that an overhaul of the state services and systems to protect the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians has begun.
“Today is the beginning of a process to acknowledge Pennsylvania, over the past few decades, has failed to maintain our systems to protect and help our most vulnerable residents, and that must change,” Gov. Wolf said. “We’ve heard and seen the horror stories. Many stem from a government too eager to serve the needs of institutions and too reluctant to serve the needs of people. I am taking executive action to make changes that will stop the system from failing Pennsylvanians most in need of our protection and care. This process builds on and incorporates important reforms passed and proposed by the General Assembly, and begins what I hope to be a productive but honest conversation about how we can move forward to protect Pennsylvanians and put people first.”
Governor Wolf’s “Protection of Vulnerable Populations” Executive Order establishes an Office of Advocacy and Reform, maintained by the governor’s office with an executive director that includes a new Child Advocate position and integrates the Long-term Care Ombudsman; and a Council on Reform, including 25 voting members appointed by Gov. Wolf, to support this effort by looking at protecting vulnerable populations from three perspectives: prevention and diversion, protection and intervention, and justice and support.
Both the Council on Reform and the Office of Advocacy and Reform will identify reforms needed for Pennsylvania to better protect and support individuals relying upon services and assistance from the commonwealth.
“I want to be clear that I am not disparaging the hardworking and frankly underpaid and underappreciated workers within this system,” Gov. Wolf said.
“This is not their fault and the failures are not of their making. But we’ve had a series of incidents in our commonwealth that have revealed inadequacies in the system’s ability to protect and uplift Pennsylvanians in vulnerable situations.”
The Council on Reform held its first meeting immediately following the announcement. The council is charged with reporting its findings from today’s and subsequent meetings to the governor by Nov. 1 after seeking input from various stakeholder groups.
In addition, Gov. Wolf is tasking state agencies with the following directives:
- Pursue bold reductions in institutionalization of children and adults and transition to home- and community-based services in conjunction with reducing placements in child residential treatment facilities, nursing homes, and child congregate care settings;
- Institute more direct and timely referral processes to investigative authorities to reduce abuse and increase accountability for institutional bad actors;
- Establish Pennsylvania as a trauma-informed state to better respond to the needs of people who have had adverse childhood experiences;
- Issue guidance standardizing the time period to establish a plan of correction following the identification of a violation by a provider licensed by the commonwealth; verifying timely compliance with and implementation of a plan of correction; and taking licensing action against a provider that does not timely comply with a plan of correction;
- Use data and analysis to identify high-risk providers for additional oversight;
- Implement a statewide child welfare case management IT system;
- Launch an enterprise licensing and incident management IT system to be shared across multiple human services and health departments to increase data sharing;
- Use LEAN to identify opportunities for efficiency in child welfare administrative functions;
- Update Older Adult Protective Services mandatory reporter training;
- Commission a study on the financial impact to Pennsylvania due to financial exploitation of older adults; and
- Establish sustainable housing and long-term services and supports for individuals exiting the corrections system with nursing facility level-of-care needs.
Council of Reform members and the perspective they represent on the council include:
- Academic Representatives: Jennie Noll and Cindy Christian
- County and City Official Representatives: City Council Member Cherelle Parker; Court of Common Pleas Judge Kim Berkeley-Clark; CCAP Deputy Director Brinda Penyak; Local Law Enforcement Tony Minimum; Juvenile Probation Officer Susan Claytor.
- Advocate Representatives: Child Advocate Kari King; Senior Advocate Bill Johnston-Walsh; Disability Advocate Nancy Murray; Victim Advocate Susan Higginbotham; LGBTQ Advocate Todd Snovel; African American Advocate David Dix; Asian American and Pacific Islander Advocate Niken Astari Carpenter; Latino Advocate Maria Teresa Donate; Women’s Advocate Randi Blackman Teplitz.
- Provider Representatives: Provider Association President Richard Edley; Provider Association Executive Director Diane Barber; Provider Association Executive Director Rebecca May-Cole.
- Health Care Representatives: Pediatrician Phil Scribrano; Geriatrician Namita Ahuja; Psychologist Stacey Rivenberg.
- Community Representatives: Young Adult Haundray Muir; Veteran Living with a Disability Chris Fiedler; Senior Mary Bach.
In addition to governor-appointed members, Wolf Administration cabinet secretaries or their designees as non-voting members of the Council include:
- The Secretary of Human Services or designee – Teresa Miller
- The Secretary of Health or designee – Carolyn Byrnes
- The Secretary of Aging or designee – Robert Torres
- The Secretary of Drug and Alcohol Programs or designee – Jennifer Smith
- The Secretary of Education or designee – Pedro Rivera
- The Secretary of Corrections or designee – George Little
- The Chairman of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency or designee – Charles Ramsey
- The Commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police or designee – Robert Evanchick
- The Adjutant General of Pennsylvania or a designee – Mark Schindler
- The Victim Advocate or designee – Jennifer Storm
- Executive Director of the Juvenile Court Judges Commission or designee – Richard (Rick) Steele
“In addition to the executive order I signed today and the steps by my administration, I will pursue extensive regulatory and legislative actions with input from the General Assembly,” Gov. Wolf said. “I look forward to working collaboratively with our legislators, many of whom have worked hard to advance these important issues, and to making announcements on progress with these actions in the coming months.”