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Home rules make couple say farewell to 'family'

May 28, 2002|BY ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

The gnawing in Faith Foltz's gut and heart tells her that part of her family has slipped away.

Technically, it's not true. Foltz, and her husband, Paul, aren't related to the handicapped people who have shared their home for many years.

Still, as the last of the people in their care got ready to move out, Foltz's spirit was fractured.

"There's been some crushed hearts and a lot of tears have fallen," she said.

For almost 10 years, the Foltzes have taken in people with mental and physical disabilities through an assisted living program. Now, the Foltzes are giving up. They say new state regulations for group homes would choke them in red tape.

Last week, Betty, 51, and her husband, Max, 67, moved out of the Foltz household. Betty, who has a learning disorder, stayed with the Foltzes for 91/2 years; Max, who is mildly retarded, was there for 71/2.

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Betty and Max now have their own apartment and their own domestic lives.

"Can I do it, Miss Fay?" Betty once asked Foltz.

"I said, 'Bring me the bills,' " Foltz said. "They don't know how."

She said a lot of people eased Betty and Max into their new apartment with furniture and money, and it looks like they'll manage well.

Gary, 52, a former correctional officer, is the only client left at the Foltzes' house. Foltz said Gary has brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen during a heart attack five years ago.

Gary may end up in a nursing home after this month, when the Foltzes' career in home care will end. On Wednesday, Foltz said there was still a chance Gary could live in another assisted living home, which would be better for him.

"When he found out he was going to leave, he shed a tear, but 10 minutes later, he forgot all about it," Foltz said.

The Foltzes said they will make sure Gary has a place to stay, even if it means keeping him for a while and risking a warning or fine from the state.

And they hope Betty and Max will visit often.

"I'll still be the protector," Foltz said.

Protection was what the state had in mind when it began tightening assisted living regulations about seven years ago, said Carol Benner, director of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's Office of Health Quality, which led the effort.

State inspectors found serious abuses in assisted living homes and other group homes, she said. Some clients were living in shabby conditions. One patient was given too much Haldol, a psychotropic drug, and another was given not enough Cardizem, a heart medication.

"We tried to keep the regulations as simple and home-like as we could - not changing the environment - but at the same time, these are businesses," Benner said. "We have a duty to protect the clients."

The Foltzes' house is one of 29 in Washington County in Project Home, said Charlie Breakall, the adult services supervisor at the Washington County Department of Social Services, which oversees the program locally. About 73 clients were living in those homes this month.

Breakall said Project Home families are paid $611 a month for the clients needing the least care and $1,211 for clients requiring the most care. There are two levels in between.

Clients contribute what they can and the Department of Social Services pays the rest.

The new regulations are "certainly more than we had," Breakall said, but he wouldn't comment on whether they were difficult to meet.

Benner said the regulations have been in effect for some time, but the state allowed a grace period for homes with fewer than eight clients.

"People have known for five, six, seven years this was coming," she said.

Some Project Home houses have been inspected under the new code, and many other providers have applied to continue their licenses. Breakall said at least six homes have left.

Benner said a few, but not many, of the state's 2,000 or so home care providers are gone, but they were the most egregious violators and won't be missed.

A differing view

The Foltzes see things differently. They feel they're being pressured to turn their house from a comfortable and casual, but careful, home into something resembling a hospital.

They cited numerous examples of minutiae - logs they have to keep, menus they have to plan, additional training sessions they have to take.

However, there may be some confusion about at least some of the new rules.

For example, the Foltzes say they must have a guest sign-in book for their clients, who get no visitors; must hang a business sign outside their house; must post all their training certificates on a wall; and must get a waiver each time a client wants to make a bed or a sandwich.

None of that is true, Benner said.

The Foltzes say they're being forced to change their meal plans from "What sounds good for dinner tomorrow?" to a 28-day menu.

Benner said menus need only be for seven days at a time and can be flexible; the state even encourages back-up choices. She said the focus is on health and nutrition, not bean-counting.

To some degree, the Foltzes and Benner are both right.

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