Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order Wednesday that will lead to increased oversight of those serving some of Arizona’s most vulnerable populations.
Ducey called on the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the Department of Health Services and Department of Economic Security to develop and implement consistent training on sexual abuse in the disability community for both service providers and family members. The training for providers will not only apply to staff at facilities and programs serving people with disabilities but also independent contractors and vendors – anyone who may have direct contact with individuals receiving care.
“All Arizonans deserve to be safe — and we have a special responsibility to protect those with disabilities,” Ducey said in a press release. “There’s more that needs to be done to ensure Arizona is guarding against abuse and neglect. We will continue working with all stakeholders to take additional action, and hold bad actors accountable, to guarantee the highest quality of care and protection for Arizonans with disabilities.”
The order comes after members and advocates of the disability community described significant shortfalls in training on several levels that the agencies will now have to address: how to prevent abuse and neglect, how to recognize the signs and symptoms of abuse and how to report suspected abuse.
Christina Corieri, Ducey’s senior policy analyst who has been meeting with advocates at the governor’s office, said concerns about the lack of training were heard repeatedly. It was an issue not unique to the rape of an incapacitated patient at Hacienda HealthCare, but one that had been known to the community for years.
“While the Hacienda event was a crime and an absolute travesty, the data actually shows us that individuals with disabilities are at a much heightened risk of this type of abuse,” Corieri told the Arizona Capitol Times. “So while we obviously have to address the Hacienda issues, we didn’t want to address them in isolation.”
The specific circumstances surrounding the Hacienda case have not been forgotten, though.
Ducey sent a letter to Attorney General Mark Brnovich Tuesday asking that his office investigate potential criminal actions by the facility, not only citing the rape of a patient but also the staff’s apparent failure to recognize she was impregnated by her attacker until the day she gave birth in December.
His executive action Wednesday also ordered agencies to require two additional safeguards of state-contracted facilities and programs for people with disabilities: Those contractors will have to prominently post signage with instructions on how to report abuse and to check whether prospective employees are on the Adult Protective Services Registry before they are hired.
Currently, applicants only go through the Department of Child Safety, not Adult Protective Services, which has an online registry available.
Finally, Ducey ordered the agencies to convene a working group of people with disabilities, advocates, service providers and family members to consider additional steps that need to be taken.
Corieri said Ducey’s order will not independently solve the problem of sexual abuse in the disability community, so the group is meant to continue the work that has been started.
The group will consider additional regulatory and legislative steps, and submit a report with its recommendations to Ducey’s office by Nov. 1.
Ducey’s order can be viewed below.