“Tara’s Law” is needed to Protect Disabled Adults from Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation
Saturday, June 2, 2012 • 12:32pm
Within the past few weeks, I have provided testimony regarding the abuse, neglect and exploitation of New Jerseyans with developmental disabilities before members of the Senate Committee on Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens and the Assembly Committee on Human Services. Joining me at each hearing were the parents and family members of these vulnerable individuals. Two of the parents had sons or daughters who died of such abuse. In two other cases, their sons or daughters were nearly beaten to death at the hands of residential staff.
Senate bill 599 and Assembly bill 2573, or “Tara’s Law,” has been the subject of much discussion over the past six months, and more recently has been the subject of analysis by the State Legislature, the Office of Legislative Services (OLS) and Committee staff. Furthermore, Tara’s Law was designed to protect people with developmental disabilities from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. However, the current language of Tara Law limits its protections to residents of Community Care Residents (foster care), and excludes developmental centers, group homes, nursing homes, supervised apartments, and other residential settings for these individuals with special needs.
As the current language of Tara’s Law points out:
“The bill requires physicians and hospitals to take into protective custody an individual with a developmental disability who otherwise would be returned to the licensee suspected of causing injury to the individual, and report such action to DHS. The bill also amends existing law to provide for safeguarding and reporting information which may be necessary for any civil or criminal proceedings which may follow an allegation of abuse, neglect, or exploitation by a caregiver (which includes a licensee) of an individual with a developmental disability.”
The protections that are prescribed in the bill serve as an important first step in protecting these vulnerable individuals from abuse, neglect and exploitation. However, the individuals who reside in community care residences represent only a small fraction of the total number of people with developmental disabilities who are in some form of residential care. The reported cases of abuse, neglect and exploitation include men and women who have died of such abuse. Tara’s Law, as we know, was inspired by a tragic case in New Jersey. As is stated in the language of Tara’s Law:
“Tara O’Leary, a 28-year old woman with developmental disabilities who had been residing in a licensed community care residence, lost a dangerous amount of weight, was relocated to a developmental center, and was subsequently admitted to a hospital weighing 48 pounds and suffering from dehydration, malnutrition, and bedsores. When her overall condition did not improve despite the use of a feeding tube to increase her weight by more than 20 pounds, she was disconnected from life support and died.”
Recently, I had a telephone discussion with a Health Committee staff member. Following the interview, I emailed the content of our discussion to all of you. At no point was I told that our conversation was “off the record”. Later, the staff member became defensive and attempted to imply that my report was misleading. However, my report was factual and the result of the copious notes that I always take during such interviews. The subject of our discussion was whether a technical reason existed that prevented the protections that are prescribed in Tara’s Law to be extended to the developmentally disabled residents in all other settings, The opinion of the staff member was that only “political” reasons prevented the other residential settings from being included in Tara’s Law.
As someone who worked on similar legislation for the Congress many decades ago, I was already aware that no technical reasons can prevent legislation from being drafted that would protect the civil and human rights of any individual in any type of residential setting.
I strongly urge the members of the Senate Committee on Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens and the Assembly Committee on Human Services to amend Tara’s law by inserting a brief phrase that will include Community Care residences and add:
“and developmental centers, group homes, nursing homes, supervised apartments and all other residential settings for people with developmental and other disabilities.”
Any delay in the passage and enforcement of Tara’s Law with the extension of protections to developmentally disabled individuals in all types of residential settings will lead to further deaths and additional physical and psychological injuries cast upon this population.
The Guest Column is our readers' opportunity to write about a given issue or topic in an in-depth and educational manner.
The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TheAlternativePress.com or anyone who works for TheAlternativePress.com. TheAlternativePress.com is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.