Pa. probe uncovers ‘lavish’ group home spending

    Pennsylvania is combing through spending records for a state program that helps people with intellectual disabilities live more independently.

    Allegations of “lavish and wasteful” spending estimated in the millions grabbed attention this week and lawmakers say they want the names of group home operators who, for instance, invested in chandeliers. A member of the state Department of Public Welfare says public dollars also went to pay for a bowling alley, repaving a parking lot, and flea treatment for a “therapeutic cat.”

    “We had been hearing rumblings of findings, but up until this point, and still to this point, it feels very anecdotal,” said Gabrielle Sedor, a spokeswoman for Pennsylvania Advocacy and Resources for Autism and Intellectual Disabilities. That association includes some group home operators.

    “I think that it’s a little bit damaging to just go around and say, ‘Well, this person has this car, or that person got that kind of landscaping.’ It’s very, very hard to respond without know, who or what or when,” she said.

    The probe also uncovered systemic problems that go well beyond the excesses of any individual contractor, said Tom Costa, the Department of Public Welfare’s executive deputy secretary.

    “For instance, the department paying two, three, four times over a mortgage or the price for a single home,” Costa said. “A provider buys a group home, the state pays for the mortgage. Then if the provider decides to sell to another provider, that provider not only walks away with the money, but the state ends up paying the mortgage a second time.”

    Costa laid out the case, this week, for tighter control and oversight.

    Management of community intellectual-disability services shifted from the counties to the state several years ago.

    “There has been some confusion there has been some overlap, instructions have changed, there hasn’t been a lot of consistency,” Sedor said.

    The program serves about 16,000 people. Costa says there are another 16,000 people on the waiting list.

    Details on the Department of Public Welfare audit will no be released until next week.

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