For five years — five too many — advocates for vulnerable adults have been urging state lawmakers to do what Kentucky already does for children:
Create a registry of people found to have mistreated vulnerable adults in their care, such as the elderly or those with disabilities, so that abusive, paid caregivers can’t skip from one job to another with no consequences.
Advocates and distraught family members have uncovered cases where such workers struck, threatened, intimidated and stole from vulnerable adults in their care, only to move on to another job when discovered, The Courier-Journal’s Chris Kenning reported Sunday.
And a criminal background check, suggested by some lawmakers, simply isn’t enough. State records show that since 2009, state social service officials have substantiated abuse or neglect in more than 7,400 cases involving adults but most do not result in criminal charges.
Yet lawmakers in past years have failed to enact a simple remedy — create a confidential registry of people who have been found by the state Adult Protective Services agency to have abused or neglected an adult in their care.
The state already maintains this type of registry of persons found to have abused or neglected children, which prevents such individuals from working in occupations around children such as day care or teaching.
And funds already are available to help pay for an electronic database prospective employers could check before hiring someone to help provide services or care for an adult. Gov. Steve Beshear included $2 million in the current budget that could still be used to create the registry, according to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which would operate the registry.
Prospects appear better for creation of the adult registry this year as it comes before the General Assembly for the fifth time.
It has attracted bipartisan support, with state Sen. Sara Beth Gregory, a Monticello Republican, sponsoring the Senate version, Senate Bill 98.
It would create an Adult Protection Registry but includes due-process safeguards that concerned some lawmakers in past years. No individuals would be placed on the registry until after they had exhausted all opportunities to appeal.
Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, a Lexington Democrat, is sponsoring a similar bill in the House.
Gregory, a lawyer, said it would offer further protections in the many cases where an individual has been documented by the state social service system to have abused of mistreated an adult but often is not convicted of a criminal charge.
Too often, victims impaired by conditions such as dementia, autism or other disabilities, simply aren’t able to testify or assist with prosecution.
Such was one case detailed by Kenning of Crystal Johnston, a Louisville mother of an adult son with autism, Daniel, who at age 18 was mistreated by a worker at camp but unable to communicate details.
Though abuse was substantiated after a state investigation, Johnston was dismayed to learn there was no official record of the incident and abuse investigations and findings are confidential with no listing or record employers could check.
“I found out there is no list,” she said. “There’s just a paper that goes in a file that nobody has access to.”
Johnston and others have worked hard in recent years to create an adult abuse registry.
The General Assembly needs to recognize their efforts and pass this legislation this year.
— Courier-Journal, Louisville