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Tuesday, April 30, 2013 - Page updated at 03:30 p.m.

Editorial: Lawmakers must provide tools to investigate abuse in group homes


A SPECIAL session for lawmakers means they will have time to enact a crucial bill so state investigators can better respond to allegations of abuse against intellectually disabled citizens living in group-home settings.

House Bill 1574 would charge state-certified residential and supported-living providers an annual fee. The money collected would be matched dollar for dollar by the federal government — enough to hire six additional full-time investigators without requiring any general-fund appropriation.

There’s no reason for legislators to reject money that is desperately needed.

Last January, the state’s Complaint Resolution Unit reported an intolerable backlog of about 2,900 intake reports.

In March, state Department of Social and Health Services officials released a report outlining the severity of their staffing shortage across the board, from Adult Protective Services to the Resident Client Protection Program. The latter program currently assigns eight investigators to oversee hundreds of monthly complaints against providers in nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, adult family homes and supported-living settings.

The agency’s plan says each investigator should be assigned no more than 25 open cases. Today, each has an average of 42 cases. Nearly half their cases last longer than 90 days.

Within that critical time frame, evidence is lost. Victims remain at risk. Even worse, Disability Rights Washington advocates say some cases are closed without proper investigation despite obvious wrongdoing.

Regardless of where they reside, intellectually and physically disabled victims deserve the dignity of a timely response to their crises.

HB 1574 is a sensible measure that passed the House March 6, made it through the Senate Health Care Committee, then inexplicably stalled in Senate Ways & Means.

Why?

Providers generally are not opposed to paying the fee. Matching funds are available. The money is dedicated to investigating complaints against supported-living facilities. And there’s obviously a need.

Lawmakers should make sure HB 1574 is included in the final state budget.

Prove that Washington truly has zero tolerance for abuse.


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