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State Representative Tom Burch (D-Louisville) has pre-filed a bill designed to revamp the system for investigating nursing home deaths in Kentucky
The proposed legislation would require all deaths to be reported to the county coroner within 24 hours by a specific staff member at long-term care facilities and hospices. Current state law only requires facilities to notify coroners in the event the death is “other than natural”. As a result, coroners are rarely even contacted, even when abuse or neglect is suspected of playing a part in the death. In fact, according to Attorney General Jack Conway, nursing homes are allowed such broad discretion on reporting possible abuse or neglect cases that often state investigators are unaware that a death may have been caused by abuse or neglect until notified by a family member or another individual files a complaint.
The proposed legislation also would require coroners to involve local law enforcement or prosecutors if the death is the result of suspected abuse or neglect. Coroners would be allowed to discern which deaths would need review by law enforcement.
Nursing homes would be required to provide the Attorney General’s Office with the name of one specific employee charged with the job of reporting deaths to the local coroner under the proposed legislation. Failure to do so would result in fines of $200 per week for the facility’s failure to comply and the designated employee could face criminal penalties.
Burch’s proposed legislation also calls for specific training on abuse and neglect for nursing home inspectors and facility staff. It also proposes strengthening the criminal penalty for failure to report suspected abuse or neglect. Currently, failure to report is a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a possible fine of up to $250. Under the new proposal, failure to report would become a Class A misdemeanor, calling for up to 12 months in prison and a possible fine of up to $500.
Once concern about the proposed legislation is the 24 hour notification period. According to Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn, the proposed 24 hour notification period could be too long. Ginn noted that a body could be at a mortuary and already embalmed if a nursing home facility were to wait the full 24 hours before notifying proper authorities of a death.
The Terry Law Firm looks forward to watching the progression of the proposed bill before the 2011 Kentucky General Assembly.