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Broadening the Definition of Abuse

Posted Sunday, April 5, 2015 by John S. Palmer

The Washington Legislature is considering a bill that would make several changes to the way “abuse” is defined by the Abuse of Vulnerable Adults Act.

The Act requires health care providers and other mandatory reporters to report suspected abuse of vulnerable adults (defined by the act to include nursing home residents, the developmentally disabled, or those over 60 who are unable to care for themselves) to DSHS, and in some cases to law enforcement. Various remedies are available to stop physical abuse and/or financial exploitation, including restraining orders.

The bill under consideration (Substitute Senate Bill 5600) would amend the definition of “abuse” to include the “improper use of restraint against a vulnerable adult”, defined as the inappropriate use of chemical, physical, or mechanical restraints for convenience or discipline or in a manner that: (a) is inconsistent with state or federal licensing/certification requirements for health care facilities or programs for the developmentally disabled; (b) is not medically authorized; or (c) otherwise constitutes abuse under the Act.

The bill also defines chemical, mechanical and physical restraint as follows:

Finally, the bill also redefines “mental abuse” to mean “a willful verbal or nonverbal action that threatens, humiliates, harasses, coerces, intimidates, isolates, unreasonably confines, or punishes a vulnerable adult. Mental abuse may include ridiculing, yelling, or swearing.”

The bill has been determined to have no fiscal impact on the state budget, and the House Human Services, Mental Health & Housing Committee has recommended its passage.

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