Law Office of John S. Palmer Attorney at Law

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Changes to WA’s Vulnerable Adult Protection Laws

Posted Thursday, August 1, 2013 by John S. Palmer

Two amendments to the Vulnerable Adult Protection Act took effect on July 28, 2013. Both amendments deal with the gathering and sharing of confidential information acquired during any investigation into the alleged abuse or neglect of a vulnerable adult in Washington.

The Act defines a vulnerable adult to include anyone age 60 or older who has the functional, mental, or physical inability to care for himself or herself; individuals who have been found to be incapacitated by the court or who have a developmental disability; and anyone who has been admitted to any facility or is receiving care services in a variety of ways.

The Act requires mandated reporters to report suspected abuse, exploitation or neglect of a vulnerable adult to the Washington Department of Social and Health Services, and in cases of suspected sexual abuse and some types of physical abuse, to local law enforcement as well. Mandated reporters include DSHS employees, law enforcement officers, social workers, and employees of health care providers and facilities.

One of the new provisions of the law is intended to ensure that to the greatest extent possible, mandated reporters share any information relevant to an investigation with DSHS investigators and local law enforcement. This provision states:

In conducting an investigation of abandonment, abuse, financial exploitation, self-neglect, or neglect, the department or law enforcement, upon request, must have access to all relevant records related to the vulnerable adult that are in the possession of mandated reporters and their employees, unless otherwise prohibited by law… Providing access to records relevant to an investigation by the department or law enforcement under this provision may not be deemed a violation of any confidential communication privilege.

There are certain exceptions to this disclosure requirement. Access to records protected by attorney-client privilege may not be provided without a court order unless otherwise permitted by existing court rule or case law. And certain specific records, such as those maintained by a healthcare provider’s quality improvement committee to identify and prevent medical malpractice, and reports alleging incompetency or gross misconduct filed with a professional licensing board by a mandated reporter, are also exempt from disclosure.

The other change in the law pertains to the use of any report DSHS must prepare and keep on file of each investigation conducted by the department; existing law permits the information gathered to be used in support of a petition by DSHS to appoint a guardian for the vulnerable adult. Under the amendment that took effect on July 28, the information may also be shared with the Certified Professional Guardian Board and the Office of Public Guardianship, for the following purposes:

This information may be used solely for (a) recruiting or appointing appropriate guardians and b) monitoring, or when appropriate, disciplining certified professional or public guardians.

The amendment goes on to note that these reports otherwise remain confidential and secondary disclosure of the information is prohibited.

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Law Office of John S. Palmer11911 NE 1st St, Ste. B204,Bellevue, WA 98005-3056