In June, prosecutors filed criminal mistreatment charges after a severely disabled woman suffered extensive burns at an adult family home. The woman, who had a stroke, blindness in one eye, partial paralysis, emphysema and short-term memory loss, was on 13 medications that caused significant drowsiness. She smoked, and it was well known that she often nodded off to sleep while smoking and dropped her cigarettes. Nevertheless, inadequately trained caregivers lit up cigarettes for her as she sat hooked to an oxygen machine, and then left her unattended. She suffered burns over 21 percent of her body and lost what little sight she had left.
In July, caregivers at an adult family home were arrested for identity theft. They stole thousands from an 83-year-old man with dementia.
Initiative 1029 will protect vulnerable seniors from these types of tragedies by improving training and requiring nationwide FBI background checks for long-term care workers.
Our state made thoughtful decisions more than a decade ago to shift long-term care resources into more cost-effective home- and community-based service settings. As a result, thousands of seniors and people with disabilities — who in most states would be in a nursing home — are receiving long-term care in their own homes, adult family homes or other community-based settings.
But with that shift comes a new responsibility — ensuring safe, quality care for vulnerable residents in their own homes and communities.
Today, most caregivers complete only 34 hours of training — and some receive even less. That’s less than half the training required of workers who provide the same type of care in nursing homes. This is especially bewildering when you consider that often the care is provided without an on-site nurse or supervisor.
At the same time, criminal background check laws are filled with loopholes that allow potential caregivers to avoid federal criminal background checks.
That’s why the Washington State Long-Term Care Ombudsman, the Alzheimer’s Association of Western and Central Washington, Residents Council of Washington Elderhealth NW, Puget Sound Alliance for Retired Americans, Fraternal Order of Police, and nurses, home care workers, sheriffs, prosecutors and police chiefs throughout the state support I-1029.
I-1029 does two simple things:
1. It requires home and community-based long-term care workers to complete 75 hours of training — the same as national training standards required for nursing home workers — and pass a certification exam to demonstrate basic competence.
2. It requires federal FBI criminal background checks for all long-term care workers.
The initiative only applies to paid caregivers, not informal and unpaid family providers. The new standards also only apply to caregivers who provide hands-on personal care to vulnerable residents — not part-time workers who might be paid to read books or play checkers with clients.
The initiative provides flexibility for providers to develop a curriculum that meets the needs of their specific clients — whether they are seniors with Alzheimer’s, or young adults with developmental disabilities.
The initiative is based on the majority recommendation of a Long-Term Care Worker Training Taskforce made up of policy experts, senior advocates and legislators appointed by the governor. The Legislature failed to adopt the recommendations, which is why supporters are taking them directly to the voters.
I-1029 will protect seniors by requiring stronger criminal background checks. And I-1029 will allow seniors and people with disabilities to stay in their own homes and be confident in the care they receive by ensuring that homecare workers receive the same national training standards as nursing home workers.
As the Baby Boomers age, it will become more and more critical to ensure safe, reliable, quality care to help seniors and people with disabilities live in their own homes. I-1029 is a common-sense step in the right direction.
Louise Clark of Edmonds is president of the Resident Council of Washington.