Texas must not allow the vulnerable to languish in unregulated homes

Texas must not allow the vulnerable to languish in unregulated homes

Texas must not allow the vulnerable to languish in unregulated homes

An Arlington police investigation into the deaths of at least 20 vulnerable Texans living in area group homes has once again shed light on the sad lack of oversight at some of these facilities.

Unlike assisted living facilities, which are regulated by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, group homes like those under scrutiny in Arlington are often unlicensed and not held accountable for the quality of care they provide. These are boarding and community care homes that do not meet state regulatory criteria.

The Legislature should reexamine this persistent problem and consider ways to provide necessary regulation of these homes or require local governments to do so.

In the Arlington case, police have charged Regla rooming house operator Suyu Becquer, 49, with murder in the death of resident Steven Kelly Pankratz, 60. The Tarrant County medical examiner ruled Pankratz’s death a homicide caused by a toxic level of mixed drugs.

Police began investigating Becquer in December after a neighbor at one of the five homes she operated called 911 because a wheelchair-bound resident was lying alone on the ground in the backyard.

In a 10-page arrest warrant affidavit, police said Becquer “stole money from patients, abused their debit and credit cards, falsified documents and wills, and administered dangerous medications for his own financial gain.”

Family members reported that they were unable to reach their loved ones or were only allowed to contact them through Becquer’s phone. One resident told police that she purposely slashed her wrists so she could be taken to the hospital and released, according to the affidavit.

State lawmakers have long grappled with reports of abuse and neglect in foster and congregate care homes, but Texas still doesn’t regulate them. That’s largely left to individual counties and cities, which do so through a patchwork of zoning and other ordinances.

In 2009, the Legislature required HHSC to develop model standards for foster care, but few local governments have chosen to adopt them. Only those that have are required to submit their data to the state for review.

In 2021, the Legislature required the agency to evaluate its current oversight of group homes and make recommendations for better regulating them. It also ordered the agency to evaluate complaints it received about such facilities over the previous 10 years.

But in a December 2022 report, the agency said it could not report on complaints because “there is no single point of intake at the state level to receive, evaluate and collect” such information.

The report recommended that the Legislature consider requiring all local governments that regulate group homes to adopt state rules, including penalties for violations. It also noted that the state could begin regulating these group homes on its own, but previous legislation requiring that failed due to “significant costs,” the report said.

The Legislature has several options to consider in deciding how to best protect the state’s most vulnerable residents living in group homes. But doing nothing is not one of them.

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