Adult Abuse Legislation Still in Flux

Feb 27, 2013

Hoping to prevent the neglect and abuse of elderly patients, lawmakers are working to create a list of qualified caregivers. However, critics say a recent revision will leave the job incomplete.   A measure debated in a state Senate committee sets up what’s known as a ‘clear-to-hire’ list.  It would be an on-line list, open to the public, of workers qualified to care for sick, disabled and elderly adults.  Marsha Hockensmith, who’s with the Kentucky Protection and Advocacy, says it’s a guide, and a comfort, for relatives who need to hire help.

“It wouldn’t be open to the public to see who have had allegations substantiated against them, but you could check to see if somebody you’re wanting to hire to provide care for your loved one has been cleared to hire,” said Hockensmith.

However, before a vote could be taken, all provisions governing nursing homes were removed from the bill.  As result, relatives could not check on the reputation of a long care facility.  It’s a change that concerns bill sponsor, Denise Harper Angel..

“Taking nursing home and long term care facilities out is a big sticking point because that is the largest population of abuse and neglect,” said Harper Angel.

With the removal of nursing homes, the American Association of Retired Persons says it can no longer support the bill.  A-A-R-P spokeswoman Kathy Allgood Murphy says omitting nursing homes and immediate care facilities is unfair.

“Everyone thought they had an agreement on it and to come in here today and be presented with this committee sub that is different from what everyone agreed on.  That’s not the way to do business,” added Allgood Murphy.

Additionally, under the modified bill, when seeking care givers, nursing homes are not required to check with the ‘clear to hire’ list.   Still, Monticello Senator Sarah Beth Gregory asked Western Kentucky Senator David Givens whether, on their own, nursing homes might still check that list.

“So, for example, a long term care facility, in an effort to exercise prudence, could in fact require it, even though it’s not spelled out in the statute,” asked Gregory.

“ Very much so and I would think largely as a shield from liability, too,” responded Givens.

Other senators worried care givers could be unfairly omitted from the list…smearing their reputations.   Many also say caregivers should be notified by the state when they are under investigation..  Senate President Robert Stivers doesn’t want to run the risk of ruining the reputations of innocent caregivers.

“I think my record’s been pretty clear about domestic violence, child abuse, everything else.  But, once you get hit with even the suspicion of abuse, it sticks to you for a long time,” said Stivers.

Given the opposition, no vote was taken by the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Still, committee chair Whitney Westerfield says it could have another chance later this session. 

Another bill, which establishes an adult abuse registry,could  go before the state senate.   The measure, sponsored by Lexington Representative Ruth Ann Palumbo, requires nursing homes to check the registry when hiring care givers.  It would list people convicted of abuse and neglect.

“We’ve got over three thousand substantiated abuse claims every year.  These are people, our loved ones, our family members who are being abused.  We’ve got to establish this registry,” explained Palumbo.

Palumbo’s hired caregivers for her mother, who died just a couple weeks ago.  Despite questions, the state representative remains optimistic.

“I hope it will pass.  I hope that they realize that it’s very very important for Kentuckians who want to protect the most vulnerable adults,” said Palumbo.

The Lexington lawmaker adds no one voted against the bill when it reached the house floor. Time is essential. One more full week remains in this 20-13 legislative session.