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7/25/2019 Bills signed into law to support Alzheimer’s care, prevent abuse
STATE HOUSE – The governor has signed into law several pieces of legislation passed by the General Assembly to better support Rhode Islanders affected by Alzheimer’s disease and to protect against elder abuse.

The bills were all sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence), who led the Senate’s Special Task Force to Study Elderly Abuse and Financial Exploitation this year. In the House, the bills were sponsored by House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi, Rep. Joseph McNamara and Rep. Patricia A. Serpa.

“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, whose father died after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

The first bill (2019-S 0223, 2019-H 5178), sponsored in the House by House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi, establishes 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.

The bill requires 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. It also requires 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 requires caseworkers working with the Department of Elderly Affairs to be familiar with those protocols. Additionally, it requires 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.

“This legislation will create a more cohesive approach to our state’s efforts to serve people with Alzheimer’s disease, which will ensure that our resources are used to their fullest effect. It will help Rhode Island make sure that our efforts are well coordinated and that we are doing everything we can to assist families touched by this devastating disease,” said Leader Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick).

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

The second bill (2019-S 0302A, 2019-H 5141), sponsored in the House by Representative McNamara, now allows 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.

“A person who needs care for Alzheimer’s should not be separated from his or her spouse on top of it. Allowing couples to remain living together will help them maintain their relationship, their connection and their personal dignity,” said Representative McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston), who is chairman of the House Health, Education and Welfare Committee.

Additionally, the governor signed legislation sponsored in the House by Representative Serpa that now requires a nationwide criminal background check for anyone seeking guardianship or limited guardianship of another adult, even temporarily.

“While most guardians are selflessly dedicated to helping those in their care, guardianship creates significant opportunities to take advantage or abuse extremely vulnerable people. No person who has an abusive or violent past should be given that level of control over an elderly or disabled person and their affairs. This bill will protect senior citizens and disabled people,” said Representative Serpa (D-Dist. 27, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick).

Under the bill (2019-S 0845A, 2019-H 6114), 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 from serving as a guardian.

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