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6/13/2019 Senate passes Sen. Coyne’s bills on Alzheimer’s care, elder abuse
STATE HOUSE – The Senate has approved four bills sponsored Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne to better support Rhode Islanders affected by Alzheimer’s disease and to protect against elder abuse.

The Senate has approved Senator Coyne’s bill (2019-S 0223) to establish a program within the Department of Health dedicated to Alzheimer’s disease, and create a 13-member advisory council that would provide policy recommendations, evaluate state-funded efforts for care and research and provide guidance to state officials on advancements in treatment, prevention and diagnosis. The bill is based on legislation signed into law last year in Massachusetts.

“Alzheimer’s disease profoundly reshapes families, often for years. Its effects slowly rob people of the abilities they have had their whole lives. Providing the care that their loved ones need can be an enormous challenge for families. We must ensure that we are carefully and effectively using every available resource we have to ensure that every person affected by Alzheimer’s has the support and care they need,” said Senator Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence), whose father died after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

The bill, which unanimously passed the Senate June 4, would require the Department of Health to assess all state programs related to Alzheimer’s, and maintain and annually update the state’s plan for Alzheimer’s disease. The bill would also require the Department of Health to establish an Alzheimer’s disease assessment protocol specifically focused on recognizing the signs and symptoms of cognitive impairments, and appropriate resource information for effective medical screening, investigation and service planning. The bill would require caseworkers working with the Department of Elderly Affairs to be familiar with those protocols. Additionally, the bill would require a one-time, hour-long training on diagnosis, treatment and care of patients with cognitive impairments for all physicians and nurses licensed in the state. House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick) is sponsoring the bill (2019-H 5178) in the House.

Adoption of the bill would enable Rhode Island to qualify for federal funding that is available to help states with their efforts to support those with Alzheimer’s disease.

Today, the Senate approved three more of her bills related to Alzheimer’s care or elder abuse.

The Senate approved legislation (2019-S 0302A) she is sponsoring to allow the spouses or partners of patients residing in Alzheimer’s or dementia special care unit or program to live with them, even if they do not meet the requirements as patients themselves. Allowing couples to live together would help maintain patients’ relationships, connections and personal dignity. Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) is sponsoring the bill (2019-H 5141) in the House.

It also passed legislation (2019-S 0603A) expanding a law that requires people who have reasonable cause to believe a person over age 60 is being abused, neglected or mistreated to report it to the Division of Elderly Affairs, which will report the incident to law enforcement if appropriate, and intervene.

Currently, health care providers and numerous types of workers who come into contact with elderly or disabled people in health care facilities are required to report suspected abuse or neglect within 24 hours.

The legislation adds a section of law requiring reporting of suspected abuse, exploitation, neglect or self-neglect of people over age 60, regardless of whether they live in a health care facility. It also expands the list of those required to report suspected abuse to include physician assistants and probation officers and protects employees who report abuse from liability (unless they are found to be a perpetrator) or negative consequences at work for reporting abuse or neglect. Similar legislation (2019-H 5573) is sponsored in the House by Rep. David A. Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston).

Passage of the bill comes just in time for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, which is Saturday, June 15. Designated by the United Nations, the commemoration is intended to raise awareness about the millions of older adults worldwide who experience elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation.

Additionally, the Senate today passed a third bill sponsored by Senator Coyne to require a nationwide criminal background check for anyone seeking guardianship or limited guardianship of another adult, even temporarily. Under the bill (2019-S 0845A), anyone who is found to have been convicted or plead nolo contendere to charges for a variety of crimes, including violent crimes or crimes involving abuse or neglect of elders, would be disqualified. The bill is being recommended by the Senate’s Special Task Force to Study Elderly Abuse and Financial Exploitation, which is chaired by Senator Coyne. Similar legislation (2019-H 6114) is being sponsored in the House by Rep. Patricia A. Serpa (D-Dist. 27, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick).

All four bills passed by the Senate are now bound for the House.

“There must be no tolerance for abuse or neglect of elderly people, and no vulnerable elderly person should be left in the care of a person who has a criminal past that includes violence or abuse,” said Senator Coyne. “These bills aim to ensure that elderly people are in safe hands and are helped immediately if they are being victimized.”

Senator Coyne is also sponsoring a resolution (2019-S 0310) in support of the adoption and implementation of a new five-year update to the state plan for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. The state’s Long-Term Care Coordinating Council, led by Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee, developed the updates over the course of a year, announcing its completion in February. The plan includes more than 30 recommendations, including the allocation of one director-level position within the Department of Health to coordinate the implementation of actions in the plan, efforts to promote Alzheimer’s and dementia research in Rhode Island and the inclusion of brain health in existing publicly-funded health promotion and chronic disease management activities. Rep. Mia A. Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln) is sponsoring the bill (2019-H 5569) in the House.

There are an estimated 23,000 Rhode Islanders age 65 and older living with Alzheimer’s disease — about 17.4 percent of that population, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. With the aging of the Baby Boomer generation, the rate of Alzheimer’s is expected to increase. In just six years, the number is expected to increase to 27,000. In the United States, nearly one in every three seniors who die has Alzheimer’s or another dementia.

For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-1923