Advocates disagree over former offenders in nursing homes

0 | Legislature, Health Care Delivery

— A representative of the state's largest senior-citizen organization told legislators today that a person convicted of a serious crime should not be allowed to live in a Kansas nursing home.

“These offenders may be elderly or disabled, but they can still put vulnerable residents at risk,” said Toni Wellshear, a member of the AARP Kansas executive council. “They belong in special facilities. They should not be in nursing homes.”

Wellshear was testifying against House Bill 2583, which would require that nursing home managers inform residents and their families of any resident listed on the state's major crimes registry.

She said requiring the notification would imply it was acceptable to allow former inmates in nursing homes even though most residents’ family members would oppose it.

Lobbyists for the state’s nursing homes said they didn't oppose the bill but cautioned committee members against creating an environment in which few, if any, facilities would accept former inmates who are elderly, in frail health or demented.

Most nursing homes, they said, would not want to be known for housing former criminals.

“If this bill passes,” said Cindy Luxem, executive director at the Kanas Health Care Association, “I’m sure our legal folks will recommend not taking any offenders.”

As a result, she said, former offenders would have nowhere else to go.

Luxem's group represents the state’s for-profit nursing homes.

The bill would require nursing homes to let current and prospective residents and their guardians know if someone living in the facility was a registered offender.

The state’s offender registry includes people convicted of sex crimes, murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, drug manufacturing or drug dealing.

The list is maintained by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

The bill was introduced in response an Oct. 16, 2011, article in The Wichita Eagle that reported there were 19 registered offenders, ages 43 to 82, living in Kansas nursing homes.

At the time, seven registered sex offenders were found to have been living at Wichita Nursing Center, a facility that closed after having its license revoked for other reasons.

The seven residents have since moved to other nursing homes in Kansas and Missouri. The article did not report any assaults or other problems attributed to the seven residents.

During testimony Tuesday, no examples of problems or crimes perpetrated by registered offenders in nursing homes were cited.

Generally, about 24,000 people reside in Kansas nursing homes. The state’s offender list includes more than 6,000 names.

Rep. Trent LeDoux, a Holton Republican, said he would be reluctant to support the bill without assurances that offenders would have access to long-term care.

“We have a responsibility to address the needs of those who need long-term care, regardless of what kind of person they are,” he said. “I don’t want us get in the business of denying care to someone because of who they are or who they were.”

Rep. Bill Otto, a LeRoy Republican, said he would like to see an entrepreneur convert some of the state’s closed nursing homes into facilities that would care for former inmates.

Luxem told Otto that if the state was willing to create a market, entrepreneurs would follow.

“There are closed-down buildings,” she said. “And, yes, I believe we have entrepreneurs out there who would be interested, but it’s all about the money.”

KBI Special Agent Kyle Smith said figuring out how to safeguard nursing home residents’ safety while also assuring former inmates access to long-term care would not be easy.

“I have to tell you, this is the stickiest wicket that I’ve seen in years,” Smith said.

Mitzi McFatrich, executve director of Kansas Advocates for Better Care, a nursing home watchdog group, testified in favor of the bill, calling it "a positive step."