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Adult abuse registry clears Kentucky Senate committee

2-10-2011 Kentucky:

FRANKFORT, Ky. — A bill to create a registry of people who have abused or neglected adults is headed for a Senate vote — backed by advocates who say it would help protect the elderly and disabled.

“We need a registry to stop these people from abusing others,” Penny Harbin told the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday, displaying a photo of her disabled son who she said was physically abused by a home-care worker. “I ask for your help to protect those who cannot protect themselves.”

The committee voted 7-3 to send Senate Bill 38 to the full Senate.
Sen. Julie Denton, a Louisville Republican who is chairwoman of the committee and also the bill's sponsor, said it would simply provide a protection already in place for children.

Kentucky maintains a registry of those found by state social service officials to have neglected or abused children, and those individuals are barred from jobs caring for children, such as in day-care centers or schools.

But “no one is capturing that information so we can protect vulnerable adults,” Denton said. “That's just not acceptable.”

Denton cited the case of an elderly Louisville couple, Hans and Martha Rau, who were defrauded by two home-care workers of cash and jewelry, including their wedding rings. Hans Rau had hoped to testify Wednesday but is in declining health and wasn't able to attend the hearing, Denton said.

The Raus were profiled last year in a Courier-Journal series on adult abuse, neglect and exploitation. The newspaper reported that many groups support an adult abuse registry as a way to protect against unscrupulous workers.

Several advocates for elderly and vulnerable adults said after Wednesday's meeting that they hope SB 38 will become law. More disabled and elderly people are seeking care at home, they said.

“Seventy percent of people with Alzheimer's are cared for at home,” said Ellen Kershaw, a spokeswoman for the Alzheimer's Association in Kentucky. “For families who seek out caregivers, this will give them an additional tool.”

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which would maintain the adult registry, had opposed the measure in previous years, citing concern about potential costs.

But Eric Friedlander, deputy secretary of the cabinet, told the committee that the cabinet now supports the registry, although officials hope lawmakers also find a way to fund it.

“We feel that an abuse registry is absolutely needed,” he said.

Tracking abuse

Friedlander noted that a social service investigation may find that a worker has abused or neglected someone but that the finding doesn't always result in criminal charges. So it wouldn't show up on a criminal background check.

And many adult abuse cases aren't prosecuted, advocates say, in part because victims aren't able to testify because of their age or disabilities.
A registry that would include a social service investigation findng “would be a tremendous added protection,” Friedlander said of SB 38.

Several committee members questioned whether people would be unfairly placed on the adult registry or damaged by unfounded accusations. But Friedlander said no one would be put on the list until state social workers had investigated the allegations and individuals had exhausted all appeal rights provided by state law.

Anyone found to have abused or neglected children has the right to an administrative appeal before a state hearing officer. That decision may be appealed in court.

Harbin said her family's problems began after they hired a worker last year, through a personal care agency, to help with her son, Kristopher Worthington, 13, who has autism, suffers from frequent seizures and uses a wheelchair.

While her son's case falls under child-protection laws, Harbin said her main concern is that the worker they hired also cares for disabled adults.

If the new registry had been in place, they would have been able to determine whether he had been found to have mistreated adults in his care.

Harbin said the worker was charged in connection with her son's case after she reported the alleged abuse to police.

And there is nothing to keep the worker from continuing to care for disabled adults, she said.

“They can go from one employer to another,” she said.

Harbin said she and her husband — feeling uneasy about the worker caring for Kristopher — placed a hidden camera in the home. The video showed him striking the boy repeatedly and rapping him on the head with his knuckles while Kristopher cowered and cried, she said.

“I trusted a person with my most precious possession — my child,” she said. “How could anyone do such a thing?” ..Source.. by Deborah Yetter

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