State should reconsider punishment of SCOPE

There’s no denying that Ohio’s laws and rules were broken by SCOPE Inc. of Trumbull County, but the punishment handed down by the state does not fit the crime. It is too harsh considering that no clients were harmed and no money was misappropriated.

Mismanagement and incompetence on the part of the former executive director of SCOPE, Janet Schweitzer, and some of her staff does not justify permanent revocation of the agency’s certificate to serve as a long-term provider for senior citizens. If the revocation stands, SCOPE will no longer be eligible to provide in-home services reimbursable by Medicaid. Last year, the agency received about $470,000 through the federal program.

Although the decision by the Ohio Department of Aging does not affect the operation of the six senior citizen centers, which are funded by Trumbull County’s senior citizens levy, the withdrawal of the long-term provider status will be a major nail in the agency’s coffin.

Ralph Smith, who has been in charge of SCOPE since April and has acted decisively to correct personnel-related problems and implement new operational procedures, believes an objective evaluation of the agency today is in order.

County commissioners Paul Heltzel, Dan Polivka and Frank Fuda share Smith’s opinion. They aren’t diminishing the seriousness of the violations, but believe that permanent revocation of the license is much too harsh. They do agree that some sanctions are in order.

Smith is of the opinion that a one-year or two-year suspension would be justified.

We urge the director of the Ohio Department of Aging, Bonnie Kantor-Burman, to reconsider her decision. No one is suggesting a tap on the wrist, but a stern message can be sent to SCOPE and other entities without crippling the Trumbull County agency. A half-century service to the community should not be summarily dismissed.

What did SCOPE do to warrant a searing report from the state? An investigation found that the agency had not conducted criminal background checks on 22 employees who provided direct care to clients and failed to secure background checks for 29 other employees within five business days.

SCOPE also hired two employees with criminal records — one in 2008 and the other in 2010 — to work directly with clients when the offenses should have prohibited them from being hired.

About 40 senior citizens who received PASSPORT services from SCOPE were assigned to a different entity.

Taxpayer dollars

The agency operates with money from local, state and federal sources. Last year, it received $1.28 million from the taxpayers — $798,288 from the proceeds of the county seniors levy; $426,734 from the state; $64,256 from the federal government.

From the outset, several board members refuted the state’s allegations. The agency’s case was presented during a hearing in August, but the hearing officer was not swayed. Sharon W. Murphy wrote that the “reckless” failure of the agency to ensure that its employees had no criminal history “warrants the most severe sanction.”

That’s what Director Burman has done.

We would urge her to visit Trumbull County and see for herself the changes that have been made since Schweitzer’s retirement.

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