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Another 'cooperative audit' from DePasquale

HARRISBURG

In 1998, then-Auditor General Robert P. Casey Jr. said he was “sickened” by what his auditors found. Casey, the son of a former governor and auditor general, unleashed a stinging audit of the Pennsylvania Department of Health entitled “Residents in Jeopardy.”

“There is no question that the Department of Health failed miserably in responding to life-threatening complaints,” said Casey, now a Democrat U.S. senator. “In fact, Health's delinquency lengthened the time that nursing home residents were exposed to substandard care and suffering.” The department's lack of timely response under Republican Gov. Tom Ridge might have contributed to one person's death, the audit said.

Fast forward to last week and Democrat Auditor General Eugene DePasquale's audit of the Department of Health's nursing home oversight. His news release began stating his “audit of the Department of Health's oversight of nursing homes has already led to changes that should improve the quality of care residents receive.” Beside him onstage: Health Secretary Karen Murphy, who requested the audit.

DePasquale said Murphy already had implemented many of his recommendations. He did uncover the prior Corbett administration's refusal for three years to accept anonymous complaints. Over a 22-month period under Gov. Tom Wolf's administration, 47 sanctions were filed by the agency based on a little more than 4,000 complaints.

It's not a great track record.

Do you see a pattern here? Casey, a Democrat, ripped Ridge, a Republican; DePas­quale, a Democrat, went softer on Wolf's Department of Health. He and Wolf are York County Democrats. DePasquale hit the blockage of anonymous complaints under Corbett, a Republican.

Perhaps Casey had much better ammunition. But it seemed like DePasquale was soft-peddling; it is commendable that Murphy asked to be audited.

In 1998, after Casey's news conference, the Ridge administration exploded with its angry response. Ridge ordered his comptroller to do its own review of nursing homes. The Ridge administration found 14 substantiated examples of residents in “immediate jeopardy.”

Casey responded with another report — “Residents Still In Jeopardy” — of all eight field offices. (The initial audit dealt only with the Harrisburg field office because Casey's auditors were kicked out of other offices.) To his credit, Ridge did eventually put together new requirements based on the audits.

By and large, DePasquale has done quality work. He is said to be a potential candidate for governor if Wolf doesn't seek a second term. He's running for re-election now.

But no way should he have had Murphy onstage with him. At another recent audit of Health and Human Services' child line, he had Ted Dallas, the agency secretary, onstage with him when he released that audit.

That hurts DePasquale's credibility. It looks like a prearranged deal — even if it isn't.

Politics is all about appearances. And that's what is at issue here.

Brad Bumsted is the Trib's state Capitol reporter (717-787-1405 or [email protected]).


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