SUNBURY — Sunbury city and Northumberland County officials met Thursday to discuss who had oversight and is responsible for individuals' well-being while living in city residences.
The meeting stemmed from a recent home inspection where city code officials found two individuals living in unsanitary conditions.
The Daily Item obtained a city code department report through a Right to Know request for a March 11 report where code officers wanted to shut down a Pennsylvania Avenue home. According to the code report, every room in the home had animal waste on the floor, the kitchen and cabinets were unsanitary and an individual was sitting in a chair in urine-soaked clothes.
Code officials immediately contacted Northumberland County Area Agency on Aging. City officials said they were told the home would need to remain open for at least 24 hours while the department searched for a place for the residents to live.
However, Commissioner Sam Schiccatanno said that isn't exactly the case, which led to Thursday's meeting between commissioners, the agency and representatives of Sunbury.
"We all met and now know that every group has different parameters on how to go about moving people out of situations," he said. "There are laws that need to be followed. I think now this all has been explained to code and council.
"We have gained a mutual understanding. There will be a better communication system in place to work for the benefit of helping people in these situations."
Code officials called Area Agency on Aging after entering the home on March 11. After waiting for a representative to arrive, code officials said they called the agency back to determine why its response was delayed, according to the report.
The report states that agency officials said, "they could not just remove a person from a home and that the agency should have been notified that the code department was going to mark the home as unfit for human occupancy."
A neighbor told the code department someone from the county's agency did show up, but the representative did not enter the property, according to the report. The individual remained in the home until March 12 when the agency secured a place for the person to live while the home was cleaned, according to officials.
Agency officials told the city code department that representatives had been to the home previously and they never reported the home was unsanitary, according to the report.
Councilman Chris Reis, who oversees the code department said, the department called state Rep. Lynda Culver to assist and speed up the process of finding a residence for the individual.
"We want to make sure things like this never happen again," Reis said. "The situation the city found at this property is unfortunate but I am glad that they were able to take all necessary precautions to ensure the safety of the residents of the property and surrounding properties. We want to make sure we are all working together to quickly and effectively handle issues that present themselves."
Area Agency on Aging administrator Karen Leonovich said the March 11 incident led to frustration for both the county and city officials.
"If someone is not an immediate risk of death or serious bodily injuries the only one to make the call to get them removed is a doctor," she said. "We can beg and plead and, unless a doctor says so, we would need a court order from a judge."
Leonovich said the meeting between officials Thursday was helpful.
"My feeling is this was a situation the code office got involved in the same time we did and everyone was trying to do what they could for the family and coming at it from two different angles," she said. "We all had the same goals in mind but the approach was different which was why everyone got frustrated and finger-pointing began. Everything worked out and getting there was frustrating on everyone's part."
The house is in the process of being cleaned and sanitized and the residents would be allowed to regain access, officials said.
"We all want is best for our residents," Schiccatano said. "This was just a case of not knowing what the other was doing and now we have better protocols in place to avoid anything like this from happening again."
Culver said she attended the meeting Thursday.
"It was a good meeting for every entity to talk about what their role and authority is and how to work together," she said.
"It opened the line of communication between them and a mutual respect for what each agency does."