Cullman County, AL (WAFF) -
It's the last place you might expect to find a sex offender living, but it's places like nursing homes you would think would be the last place they could be lurking.
Currently in Alabama, there's no law that says a nursing home has to disclose if a sex offender lives there or is being admitted. But a one group is trying to change that.
For three years, Tonya Glassco was the primary caregiver for her 79-year-old mother-in-law, Valeria Freeman.
She and her husband moved in with her and couldn't foresee ever moving out because she was in such poor health and her Alzheimer was getting worse.
When Glassco got sick, she and her husband made the decision to place her mother-in-law in a nursing home. She said it was the hardest decision she ever had to make and it was just her mother in law.
She looked at least four facilities. She asked numerous questions about the facility, its staff and policies. She also asked if there were any sex offenders living in the facility.
Hazel Bentley Kine with The Silver Haired Legislature, a group devoted to addressing the needs of our elderly, said she found out there were attacks being done to our seniors in nursing homes. So she has sponsored a resolution in the Silver Haired Legislature requiring all nursing homes to disclose if a registered sex offender is currently residing or is being admitted into a facility.
Kine said she has written a resolution for the last three years asking simply that notification be given for seniors who are in these facilities of any sexual offender that is on the premise.
Currently, no such law exists in Alabama and Representative Jeremy Oden of Cullman wants to change that. He presented a bill in the house this last session. House Bill 186 requires notification be given to all residents of any sexual offender residing in a facility.
The bill mandates that the owners of the nursing home or assisted living facility that if they receive an individual who may be a sexual predator that they first notify the residents. They also notify The Department of Senior Services and also the local district attorney there is a sex offender in that facility.
It didn't make it up for a vote this session, but Oden plans to reintroduce it in the next session.
Oden said there is no data as to how many sex offenders are living in Alabama nursing homes. He said as far as residents being assaulted, right now there's not a very good record of that but said it's a small number.
But according to a nursing home watchdog group, in 2008 there were over 1600 registered sex offenders living in facilities with seniors across the country. But members of the Silver Haired Legislature said there really is no way of knowing how many seniors are attacked in facilities, because many go unreported. [MY NOTE: Again with the underreporting myth]
Members of The Silver Haired Legislature said if residents don't remember it they can't report it. Even if it is reported, if they can't identify their predator, they can't testify against him.
Frank Brown, President of The Alabama Nursing Home Association said under Alabama law, nursing homes are prohibited from admitting anyone who might be a danger to themselves or the general population.
Nursing homes do screen potential employees for sexual offenses. But as for potential residents Brown said screenings are not required.
Brown, who also owns a nursing home, admits the association hasn't really looked closely at the bill. But he said he really doesn't see this as a problem in Alabama. He said there has been but one or two sexual instances in nursing homes in the state since his 35 years in the business.
Brown said he's not opposed to providing notification, but if nursing facilities are required to do background checks on residents, it will be an expensive process. With the average stay in a nursing facility around six months, Brown said he just doesn't think residents are at risk.
"Is a bank robber going to rob a bank from my nursing home? is a car thief going to go steal another car? folks in nursing homes are awfully sick. they don't get around to much," he said.
Members of the Silver Hair Legislature said if this bill is made into law, it would protect the facility, the residents and the families.
Carol Oden said it would be peace of mind knowing that her family member would be taken care of and she would know that they would not be mistreat in any way and they would be safe.
Glassco said that is a primary concern for her mother-in-law who she says is confined to a wheelchair. She said she just doesn't want anyone to take advantage of her.
Until House Bill 186 becomes law, it's up to the individual to ask for information relating to sex offenders living in nursing homes and long term care facilities. Brown said if the bill picks up steam The Alabama Nursing Home Association will take a look at it, and suggest changes if needed. He said if it is a good bill, the association will support it. If it is not, they assure the bill would not pass.Copyright 2011 WAFF. All rights reserved.