We all depend on our family and friends for support, but those with mental or physical disabilities may require particular forms of care and be especially vulnerable to mistreatment. Tragically, some caregivers are not responsible or trustworthy. Abuse of persons with disabilities is a serious concern which has recently come into the news again in Western Pennsylvania.
Only six states do not have a law specifically designed to protect adults with physical or mental impairments from exploitation, neglect or abuse by their caregivers. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is one of these states.
The Child Protective Services Law and the Older Adult Protective Services Act are designed to give proper authorities the right to investigate suspected abuse of children or seniors. But these statutes leave adults 18-59 without similar legal protection, making it more difficult for police to help.
This problem was highlighted recently in a series of articles in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, (1) sparked by the arrest in Johnstown of a family member who is accused of abusing a mentally disabled, 18 year old man. The newspaper also reported a story of a Pittsburgh man suffering from multiples sclerosis whose brothers tied him to his wheelchair and left him alone all day.
Five years ago, the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee recommended creating an Adult Protective Services unit within the Department of Public Welfare. The proposed legislation is Senate Bill 1049, introduced by Senator Pat Vance (R Cumberland). She is quoted by the Post Gazette as saying, “I don’t know of anybody who opposes the bill” (2). Nevertheless, the bill stalled in appropriations. The problem is money. The Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania has estimated that establishing this program could cost $6 million per year.
In a time of cutbacks and economic stress, funding is the issue.
If passed, this bill would create a state agency with a right to demand entrance into homes where abuse is suspected. As it stands now, if authorities come to a house and no immediate physical danger for the disabled person is obvious, the caregiver does not have to allow police to enter and investigate.
The bill is scheduled to be reintroduced to the state legislature in January. You may wish to contact your state representative and urge support for Senate Bill 1049/House Bill 361. If you have access to the internet, there are two quick ways to find your state representative’s name and contact information:
- Go to the Pennsylvania General Assembly site
In the upper right hand corner of the screen, go to the “Find Members By” box and enter either your zip code or your county.
- Go to the Pennsylvania House Members site and scroll down the list of representatives until you recognize your District number.
You may also wish to contact the Department of Public Welfare to advocate for an Adult Protection Act by writing to
Estelle B. Richman, Secretary
Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare
P.O. Box 2675
Harrisburg, PA 17105-2675
If you or if you suspect someone you know is not receiving proper care, it is very important to contact a helping agency. While there is not a hotline set up specifically for reporting abuse of disabled adults, there are many helping agencies to contact. If you or the person you are concerned about live in a personal care home, this is important contact information:
Center for Victims of Violence and Crime
Allegheny County 24 hour hotline: 412 392 8582
Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania website resource page. Lists many general resources for persons with disabilities. 1 800 490 8505
Website for the Department of Public Welfare’s Office of Long Term Living
1 866 286 3636 This is an information helpline, not a crisis hotline; Trained counselors answer Monday-Friday, from 8:00a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
This is the website of Achieva, formerly Arc Allegheny, oriented toward supporting persons and families of persons, of any age, dealing with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
(1) Links to two of these articles are: https://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08346/934356-56.stm and
(2) “Money Blocking Adult Abuse Act,” December 15, 2008 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, https://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08350/935270-114.stm; accessed January 3, 2009