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Gordon-Weinberg Bill To Protect Vulnerable Adults From Abuse Advances

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Bob Gordon and Loretta Weinberg which would require certain public officials to report suspected abuse, neglect or exploitation against vulnerable adults suffering from physical or mental illness or disability was unanimously approved by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee yesterday.

“New Jersey needs to do a better job protecting its most vulnerable population,” said Senator Gordon, D-Bergen, and a member of the Senate Health Committee. “Unfortunately, under current law, reporting of suspected abuse or exploitation of vulnerable adults is entirely voluntary, even among public servants sworn to protect the community. This bill codifies what should be considered common sense, and helps abused individuals get access to the help they need.”

“It simply defies explanation that care providers, police officers and other public officials are not required to report suspected abuse immediately to the appropriate channels,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen, and Vice Chairwoman of the Health panel. “Thankfully, we have a number of public officials who have done the right thing in the past and come forward voluntarily with their concerns, but it’s time we make reporting mandatory whenever even the specter of abuse rears its ugly head.”

The bill, S-1799, would amend current law to require that health care professionals, law enforcement officers, firefighters, paramedics or emergency medical technicians who have reasonable cause to believe that a vulnerable adult is being abused, neglected or exploited must report the suspected abuse to the county adult protective services provider. Health care professionals subject to the requirements under this bill would include those employed at health care facilities, correctional facilities, developmental centers and congregate living facilities. The bill defines vulnerable adults as anyone 18 years of age or older who resides in a community setting and who, because of a physical or mental illness, disability or deficiency, lacks sufficient understanding or capacity to make, communicate or carry out decisions concerning his or her well-being.

“This bill is about connecting vulnerable adults to the established protective safety net within their community,” said Senator Weinberg. “No one should have to suffer the horror stories we’ve heard coming from this community in the past, let alone to have to suffer silently, unable or afraid to ask for help. Through this legislation, we’re hoping that our State’s most vulnerable adults have better access to protective services when it’s needed most.”

“We’ve seen time and time again, courageous public servants coming forward and blowing the whistle when they suspect a vulnerable adult has become the victim of abuse or exploitation,” said Senator Gordon. “However, the choice to report abuse shouldn’t be a matter of conscience, but a matter of second nature for care providers and our State’s finest and bravest public servants. This bill makes sure that when abuse, neglect or exploitation are suspected, that someone steps forward and acts as a voice for the voiceless, vulnerable citizens living in the Garden State.”

The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.