Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes was clearly guarded about imposing new regulation for personal-care homes at the Monday Jackson City Council Planning Committee meeting.
Stokes, the committee chairman, asked the city's legal department to investigate the possibility of imposing stricter zoning requirements for personal-care homes, which currently can open in any city zone with a residential R-1 designation. Stokes told city legal that he wanted to contain personal-care homes to a more restrictive R-5 zone, the same zoning requirement for retirement homes or medical facilities. Stokes also asked city attorneys to search city case law for records of successful courtroom opposition to zone requirements the city attempted to pass in prior years.
"We need to create an ordinance that's going to hold personal-care home owners responsible," Stokes said.
Cassandra Welchlin, president of the Capital Neighborhood Association, told the committee that association members worry that too many businesses following the state's personal-care home definitions don't have to adhere to state requirements or supervision, thanks to a loophole in state law.
"There are two more personal-care homes trying to open in our neighborhood, but we don't want any more to open because we're already over-saturated with personal-care homes," Welchlin said. "We don't want any more opening because the state can't regulate the homes already there, and many of them do not have to follow state law or
City Deputy Attorney Azande Williams told members of the committee that the city recorded a total of 21 unlicensed personal-care homes inside city limits. This number does not include another 13 personal-care homes containing four or more residents that require a state license to operate. Almost all the 34 personal-care homes Williams counted reside within Ward 5.
The Mississippi Department of Health publishes an exhaustive 39-page document outlining minimum standards for businesses providing residents with one or more daily assisted-living services, including "bathing, walking, excretory functions, feeding, personal grooming and dressing," according to MDH. State law watchdogs every aspect of running a personal care home; however, those Department of Health standards do not apply to small personal-care homes such as the kind blooming in West Jackson.
"Those homes don't have to be licensed if they have three or under occupants," said Nancy Whitehead of the Mississippi Department of Health's Regulation and Licensure Division. "If you have a problem (with a personal care home), you have to call the Department of Human Services, but there are no regulations on them."
Attorney General Jim Hood, whose Medicaid Fraud Control Unit investigates and prosecutes personal-care home violations, receives about 1,600 complaints a year on alleged violations, and is in the middle of about 200 ongoing investigations in Jackson.
Hood said incomplete state regulations leave too much room for misconduct from assisted-living businesses with three or less residents. "If you're taking care of people in a home anywhere, whether it is a nursing home or anything, it should be a requirement that it be licensed," Hood said in July. "The health department would then come in and decide if the conditions are proper for someone to be there. ... [T]hat's a loophole that needs
to be closed."
Hood added that the state health department had only a handful of individuals overseeing the licensed facilities, much less the unregulated smaller businesses: "They're already stretched as it is," Hood said.
Ward 5 Councilman Charles Tillman agreed with Welchlin that there appeared to be a "concentration" of those types of businesses in his ward, and backed Stokes' call to create a city ordinance that would regulate the smaller assisted-living businesses that fall through the state's regulation cracks.
Stokes said he wanted to make sure any new local regulation does not step on the toes of state law, however. Deputy City Attorney James Anderson said legal staff would look into the possibility of local regulation, and suggested that there could be room for enforcement since the state does not appear to impose any regulation of its own.
The city's police or fire department may enforce the regulations, with the help of the city's Department of Human and Cultural Services. Fire Marshal Johnnie McDonald told the committee this morning that the fire department regularly inspects only the personal-care homes that are licensed by the state, and has no interaction with the smaller, unregulated businesses.