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Public Statements

Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. KOHL. Mr. President, I speak today in support of the Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act, S. 1577. This bill takes needed, practical steps to protect seniors in nursing homes and other settings wherever long-term care services are delivered. The background check procedures used by most States today are inadequate to keep out thousands of criminals, who can and do take advantage of loopholes and gaps in State systems. This results in needless tragedies and terrible harm to seniors.

As chairman of the Senate Aging Committee, I have read and heard about too many of these stories. One young woman, Jennifer Coldren, testified earlier this year that her 90-year-old grandmother was brutally assaulted by a predator who had a criminal record that went unnoticed. If a more comprehensive background check had been done on this individual, he would not have been working in this nursing facility, and the course of Jennifer's life and her grandmother's life would not have been so horribly altered.

It is past time for the Federal Government to take the lead in asking States to improve their screening processes. To do so, States must improve their infrastructure. They must connect and coordinate their State registries, such as those established for sex offenders and child abusers. They must screen all long-term care workers, including those who work in private homes. They must require State police checks and checks against the FBI's national criminal history database.

We know that States will take these steps to improve their background check procedures if Congress incentivizes them to do so. Seven States did exactly that after we provided them with modest grants under a pilot program enacted as part of the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003. The dollar amounts required to get these States to expand and improve their systems were modest, ranging from about $1.5 million to $3 million per State.

The results have been extremely impressive. At the close of the pilot program, more than 9,000 applications had been disqualified--because a comprehensive check showed that the applicant had a serious criminal history or a record of substantiated abuse. As a result, thousands of individuals who could have harmed our parents, grandparents, and loved ones have not been allowed to do so. And all seniors in these States who are receiving long-term care services--in Alaska, Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wisconsin are now safer.

We have a responsibility to build on this record of resounding success. If we help States to take these steps I have outlined, we can reduce the terrible toll of elder abuse. If we do nothing, experts tell us abuse rates will continue to rise.

I am pleased to have Senator Domenici as a partner and many of my colleagues as cosponsors, including Senator Lincoln of Arkansas and Senator Cochran of Mississippi. Thanks to the leadership of Senator Baucus and Senator Grassley, the cost of this bill--$100 million over 3 years--is fully offset. With regard to all other Senators, the only offices that have expressed concerns are those of Senator Coburn of Oklahoma and Senator DeMint of South Carolina. I appreciate the willingness of their staffs to meet with my staff and trust that they will be able to reach agreement shortly.

In closing, the Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act has made substantial progress during the 110th Congress. It is strongly endorsed by attorneys general across the country, by the business community, labor unions, and elder justice advocates. It has been thoroughly discussed in public hearings and also during a markup in the Senate Finance Committee, where it was unanimously approved. The administration has provided technical assistance on the bill. I hope that all Senators will recognize the wisdom of approving this measure. Failing to take action to protect our Nation's frailest citizens should be unacceptable to all of us.

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