Legislation to better protect children and adults with development disabilities from potential abuse and neglect from caregivers was unanimously approved by the full Assembly on Monday, December 19th.
The bill (A-2503), known as “Stephen Komninos’ Law,” honors the memory of Stephen, an individual with developmental disabilities who died at the age of 22 while under the care of a private state-licensed facility for individuals with developmental disabilities. Stephen was a non-verbal, young man who suffered through many substantiated incidents of abuse and neglect by caregivers. Tragically, the last incident resulted in his death.
The bill helps protect and ensure accountability and transparency for adults and children with developmental disabilities through site visits, allowing a guardian or family member to attend or observe any investigation by DHS in cases of abuse, neglect or exploitation and by increasing the degrees of a certain crimes.
“Sadly, the people most in need of our help and compassion are often considered easy targets for abuse and maltreatment,” said Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). “The provisions in this bill will hopefully provide greater peace of mind for families by ensuring that facilities charged with helping their loved ones don’t actually end up causing the most damage.”
Within 48 hours of receipt of a report of an incident involving physical injury, abuse or neglect in a program, facility, community care residence, or living arrangement licensed or funded by DHS for an individual with a developmental disability, the Commissioner would send an employee of DHS to the location of the reported incident to verify the level of severity of the incident.
DHS must maintain the reports and determine the severity of it within 48 hours, initiate appropriate responses through timely and appropriate investigative activities, alert appropriate staff and then ensure that findings are reported in a uniform and timely manner.
Upon receipt of the report, both DHS and the family member of the individual with developmental disabilities may involve local and state law enforcement officials.
Additionally, as a condition of employment as a direct care staff member at a program, facility, or living arrangement licensed or funded by DHS, all applicants are required to be drug tested at their expense at the time of application for employment. Random drug testing is required at least once annually and may occur at any time if there is reasonable suspicion by an immediate supervisor.
DHS would also be required to adopt rules and regulations necessary to provide for an investigation of a reported incident and allegations of abuse, neglect, or exploitation which shall include:
• Providing an opportunity for a guardian or authorized family member to submit information to facilitate an investigation and to represent the individual and be informed of the progress of the investigation.
• A guardian would have the ability to request a progress report of the status of the investigation, including any medical records or reports about the individual, within seven calendar days and weekly thereafter.
• A guardian of an individual with a developmental disability, upon request, may be permitted to attend or observe the investigation, unless the attendance or observation would impede the investigation.
• A written summary of the conclusions of the investigation would be provided to the guardian or authorized family member of the individual with a developmental disability who is the subject of the alleged abuse, neglect, or exploitation.
DHS would also be required to adopt rules and regulations that define the procedures and standards for inclusion of an offending caregiver on the central registry, and for notifying the guardian or authorized family member of the individual with a developmental disability who was the subject of the abuse, neglect, or exploitation that led to the caregiver’s inclusion on the central registry.
A case manager or case manager’s supervisor in DHS who fails to report an act of abuse, neglect, or exploitation of an individual with a developmental disability while having reasonable cause to believe that such an act has been committed, would be guilty of a crime of the fourth degree. If the abuse, neglect, or exploitation results in the death of an individual with a developmental disability, the case manager or case manager’s supervisor would be guilty of a crime of the third degree.
Penalties collected under the law would be used for caregiver training and visits required under this bill. The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.