Hot Topic: Nursing Homes for Sex Offenders & Violent Offenders

Lawmakers solving wrong problem

4-21-2012 Iowa:

Dementia patients a bigger threat than sex abusers

A 95-year-old woman says she was sexually assaulted by William Cubbage while they were both living in Pomeroy Care Center. The man, who is 83 and has dementia, was sent to the nursing home by a judge. The home did not inform residents he was a convicted sex offender. The alleged assault was witnessed by an 8-year-old girl visiting on a school trip. Now the woman has filed lawsuits against both the state and the nursing home.

It’s the kind of troubling story that garners a lot of public attention. State lawmakers rightly feel compelled to respond. Unfortunately, they are doing what they frequently do when it comes to sex offenders: playing politics while crafting bad legislation.

On Wednesday, Iowa’s elected officials argued over who could be tougher on offenders who are so disabled they have to live in nursing homes, assisted living centers or residential care facilities.

“You acknowledged that you allow rapists next to grandmothers,”a Republican yelled. You “let sexually violent predators into a nursing home … and somehow refer to that as leadership?” a Democrat replied.

But what changes do they want to make in Iowa’s law?

The Iowa House passed legislation clarifying homes are not required to admit people ordered to them by a court. Facilities will have to check the names of all applicants against the state sex offender registry. If they admit someone on the registry, the home must provide written notice to numerous people, including residents, visitors and the county sheriff.

Then there is the real world.

In the real world, what is a judge supposed to do with a man who has committed a crime but has an IQ of 50? There are 5,403 people on Iowa’s sex offender registry. Just like other Iowans, some have mental health problems. They will grow older and need help.

If the legislation becomes law, facilities simply won’t allow these people to move in. So where will they go?

The House has half an answer: create a committee of “stakeholders” to study creating a separate facility for these people. But lawmakers don’t seem to understand they are trying to solve the wrong problem. Sex offenders are not the biggest threat to Iowans in care facilities.

The Government Accountability Office interviewed numerous industry workers and found they worry more about abuse being committed by residents with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and mental illness than those who may have been convicted of sex crimes years earlier. In fact, those offenders are no more likely than other residents to commit abuse, and their risk of doing so declines with age.

The truth is everyone living in a care facility is vulnerable. They all need to be better protected, regardless of the criminal histories of their neighbors. Anyone in a home with mental illness or dementia could pose an unexpected threat. Not just people with a history of abuse.

Tackling that issue — the real issue — complicates things for lawmakers, because it means looking at the bigger picture and proposing more controversial but meaningful changes. Those changes could be requiring minimum staff-to-patient ratios, or requiring training for workers, or requiring homes to institute policies that better monitor all residents. It means increasing penalties for homes that don’t protect people.

Unlike the House legislation, lobbyists for nursing homes will not be registering “undecided” on legislation containing such proposals. Yet those are the kinds of changes that need to be made to keep vulnerable Iowans safe. ..Editorial Source.. by The Register’s Editorial

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