‘Stephen Komninos’ Law’ Will Put Measures in Place to Better Address Reports of Abuse and Neglect in State-Licensed Facilities
The General Assembly on Monday unanimously concurred with recommendations contained in the Governor’s conditional veto of legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Gabriela Mosquera, Cleopatra Tucker, Angela McKnight, Raj Mukherji and Benjie Wimberly to better protect children and adults with development disabilities from potential abuse and neglect by caregivers.
The bill (A-2503), known as “Stephen Komninos’ Law,” honors the memory of Stephen Komninos, an individual with developmental disabilities who died at the age of 22 while under the care of a private state-licensed facility for individuals with developmental disabilities. Stephen was a non-verbal young man who suffered through many substantiated incidents of abuse and neglect by caregivers. Tragically, the last incident resulted in his death.
“This has been a long, hard-fought victory on behalf of Stephen Komninos and his family,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “This bill, while not ideally what we were seeking, will still guarantee a significant overhaul to our system and help us meet our goal of preventing future tragedies. At the end of the day, it puts significant protections in place to help uncover any incidents of abuse or neglect and ensure that these incidents are addressed as swiftly as possible and those responsible are held accountable. I want to thank all of the advocates who fought alongside us to help create an environment that does not tolerate the abuse, neglect, or exploitation of individuals with developmental disabilities.”
The bill would help protect and ensure accountability and transparency for adults and children with developmental disabilities through site visits, allowing the person who is responsible for the welfare of the individual to attend or observe any investigation into cases of abuse, neglect or exploitation and by increasing the penalty for certain crimes.
“Sadly, the people most in need of our help and compassion often are considered easy targets for abuse and maltreatment,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). “The provisions in this bill will hopefully provide greater peace of mind for families by ensuring that facilities charged with helping their loved ones don’t actually end up causing the most damage.”
“Requiring site visits to facilities will help us better determine if individuals with developmental disabilities living in state-licensed facilities are at risk of, or are being subjected to, abuse, neglect, or exploitation by a caregiver,” said Tucker (D-Essex). “This oversight is crucial to putting an end to potential abuse.”
“Facilities would be required to report incidents of abuse, neglect or exploitation to the person who is responsible for the welfare of an individual with a developmental disability as soon as possible, which will ensure that loved ones are informed promptly,” said McKnight (D-Hudson).
“Not only do these changes substantially increase oversight at facilities, but they also bring families further into the fold, keeping them more informed and involved on the status of their loved one and creating greater peace of mind,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson).
“When parents take their children with developmental disabilities to a facility, they hope that the employees will treat their children with love and respect. Their absolute worst fear is that they one day will go through the pain that the Komninos family has experienced,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). “New Jersey has a responsibility to take a zero-tolerance stance when it comes to abuse and neglect by caregivers.”
Specifically, the bill would:
– Require random, unannounced site visits to community-based residential programs to determine if individuals with developmental disabilities are at risk of, or are being subjected to, abuse, neglect, or exploitation by a caregiver;
– Require each state developmental center to biannually schedule a meeting with the person who is responsible for the welfare of an individual with developmental disabilities.
– Require community-based residential programs and day programs to make a notification of physical injuries no later than 2 hours after the occurrence of the injury; the changes also allow for notification to be given up to 8 hours after an incident in the event of extraordinary circumstances, which would have to explained in writing to DHS, the guardian, or a requesting family member within 14 days of the incident;
– Require DHS to make a site visit to developmental centers and community-based residential program following the report of major/moderate abuse, neglect, or exploitation;
– Require facilities to notify a guardian of an incident within 60 minutes;
– Require DHS to review unsubstantiated incidents within 14 days (extended from seven days);
– Require the Office of Investigations to issue a written report of an incident within 30 days (extended from 14 days);
– Require DHS to post a copy of this bill on its website; and
– Also allow the individual with developmental disabilities to prohibit notification of an incident to a guardian or family member.
The legislation also would require drug testing for all applicants seeking employment as a direct care staff member at a program, facility or living arrangement licensed or funded by DHS. Hired candidates would be subject to random drug testing during the course of employment. Random drug testing would be required at least once annually.
The legislation now heads to the Senate for final concurrence with the Governor’s recommendations.