Georgia House Bill SB 406 to help protect elders from abuse

Special to the Times

A milestone was reached recently when the Georgia House passed SB 406 by a vote of 163 to 4. The measure had the strong backing of the Georgia Council on Aging and CO-AGE (Coalition for Advocates for Georgia’s Elderly.)

It requires comprehensive background checks and fingerprinting for owners, employees and applicants of nursing homes, personal care homes, assisted living communities, private home care providers or adult day care centers as recommended by the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform. It was supported by Governor Deal and was sponsored by Sen. Brian Strickland (R-McDonough.) The Governor’s Floor Leader, Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula) led efforts in the House.

“CO-AGE identified the passage of a measure requiring tougher background checks and fingerprinting as one of its top priorities for 2018, so we’re delighted that this important bill passed,” said Vicki Johnson, chair of the Georgia Council on Aging. “Both the Council and CO-AGE have worked over the years to ensure that older adults, disabled persons and other vulnerable populations are safe and protected from exploitation. The passage of SB 406 is a great victory for Georgia’s seniors.”

Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan has dubbed elder abuse an “iceberg crime,” meaning that only a small percentage of the crimes are reported. Until the passage of SB 406, licensed providers were required to conduct only a state, name-based background check when they hired someone. Because of gaps in that system, individuals with a record of abuse might not be identified. Under the new law, the Georgia Department of Community Health will require all staff with direct access to residents to undergo an FBI fingerprint background check prior to employment, thus capturing offenders from other states as well as individuals who may have changed their names.

SB 406 is the latest in a series of measures that the state has adopted to ensure that Georgia’s vulnerable populations are safe. Among those measures are an increase in the number of GBI agents focused on fighting elder abuse, increased funding for Adult Protective Services and funding for an Elder Abuse Attorney in the Prosecuting Attorney’s Council.