Committee On Abuse Of Vulnerable Arizona Adults Meets Again; Loopholes, Funding Cited As Problems

Published: Thursday, September 19, 2019 - 5:24pm
Updated: Friday, September 20, 2019 - 8:40am
Kathy Ritchie/KJZZ
The Area Agency on Aging oversees the long-term care ombudsman program. These advocates visit every nursing home and assisted living facilities and meet with residents to ensure their rights are upheld.

Nine months after an incapacitated woman gave birth to a baby at a Phoenix long-term care facility, advocates, lawmakers and officials continue to look at the issue of abuse and neglect of vulnerable adults. Loopholes and lack of funding appear to be part of the problem.

The ad hoc committee on Abuse and Neglect of Vulnerable Adults is tasked with finding out where the state falls short, and what laws might be needed to protect this population.

Erica McFadden is with the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Council. On Tuesday, she talked about the Adult Protective Services Registry, which names caregivers and other professionals who have abused a vulnerable adult.

"The APS Registry right now, you have to check it if you contract with DES, AHCCCS, DHS," McFadden said. "However, what’s not covered are private agencies, so private home care, hospitals aren’t covered, so if you abuse or found to substantiate that you abused somebody, you can go work at a hospital; you could work at a school with children because they’re not required to do an APS registry check."

Another issue, McFadden said, if a direct careworker is accused of abuse and called off the floor, they might have another job and that employer might not know about the accusation. 

Staffing shortages and lack of training on abuse and neglect are also concerns. 

Mary Lynn Kasunik is with the Area Agency on Aging. Her agency oversees the long-term care ombudsman program, which deals with resident rights. She says funding is an issue.

"For example, in Maricopa County, we have 84 nursing homes, 1,591 assisted living facilities, which represents almost 38,000 beds," Kasunik said. 

So that means each paid ombudsman is responsible for more than 4,000 beds. That’s about 2,000 more than is recommended by The National Institute of Medicine.

The agency would likely need another $1 million to meet the institute's standards. House Speaker Rusty Bowers announced the creation of the study committee in June. He appointed Democratic Rep. Jennifer Longdon to chair the committee and Republican Rep. Tim Dunn to serve as vice chair.

The ad hoc committee will meet again in October and is open to the public. 

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