New law to help prevent mistreatment of at-risk Coloradans

DENVER (May 31, 2017) — Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill into law today that helps protect some of the most vulnerable Coloradans. House Bill 17-1284 will allow and require certain types of employers to check the Colorado Adult Protective Services data system (CAPS) before hiring an employee to work directly with an at-risk adult.

Prior to this law, there was no way for an employer to tell if a prospective employee had a proven Adult Protective Services (APS) case of abuse, neglect or exploitation against an at-risk adult. Colorado’s at-risk adults include people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, dementia, brain injury and other conditions that make these adults susceptible to mistreatment. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Susan Lontine and Sens. Irene Aguilar and Bob Gardner.

“Colorado requires background checks for teachers, at licensed child care facilities and in many other professions -- and for good reason. But there is no such requirement to check for prior instances of mistreatment for the people who care for the most vulnerable adults in our society,” said Mindy Kemp, director of the Division of Aging and Adult Services at the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS). “This law will close that loophole and make Colorado safer for at-risk adults.”

Reports of mistreatment of at-risk adults are on the rise in Colorado. Since a 2014 mandatory reporter law went into effect, the number of reports received by APS has increased 60 percent statewide. In Fiscal Year 2015-16, 17,743 APS reports were filed in Colorado. Three-fourths of the people in these reports were age 60 or older.

Colorado’s at-risk population will grow with its aging population, which is one of the fastest-growing in the United States. Colorado’s population age 65 and older is expected to more than double in 20 years, increasing from 500,000 in 2010 to 1.2 million in 2030.

The law goes into effect immediately, although full implementation will happen over the next two years as CDHS works with stakeholders to establish processes for notifying substantiated perpetrators of their due process rights and to set up the CAPS check process. Employers, including CDHS, are currently not allowed to check the CAPS database, but certain employers will be required to do so starting Jan. 1, 2019.

The following types of facilities and programs will, upon implementation, be required to check the CAPS system prior to hiring someone who will provide direct care to at-risk adults: health facilities licensed by the Department of Public Health and Environment, adult day care facilities, community integrated health care service agencies, community-centered boards and program-approved service agencies, Area Agencies on Aging and their providers, Veterans Community Living Centers, facilities operated by CDHS for persons with mental illness, and facilities operated by CDHS for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

The law includes due process rights for those who have been substantiated for abuse in an APS case, a process not available to perpetrators under current law. A preponderance of evidence -- evidence that the mistreatment more likely than not occurred -- is the burden that must be met to substantiate an APS case. Any person found by the APS program to have mistreated an at-risk adult will be notified and have a chance to appeal the finding. The abuse, neglect or exploitation must be substantiated before a person's name is included in the results of a CAPS check.

At least 20 states have some type of adult abuse registry operated by or including information from APS investigations, according to CDHS research. Eleven of those states require certain employers to check the registry prior to hiring someone who will have access to patients, residents or clients.

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