Track care providers who commit abuse

But offer those who are accused an appeals process

IN EARLY NOVEMBER, the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Children and Families heard compelling testimony from families, caregivers, and state agencies about the need to pass Senate bill 2606, an act that directs the Disabled Persons Protection Commission to establish and maintain a registry of care providers who commit substantiated findings of abuse. The bill also serves to create an appeals process for workers that wish to appeal a finding of substantiated abuse or neglect.

As a residential direct support professional at Bridgewell and proud union member, I am excited to support the legislation, often referred to as Nicky’s Law.

I work alongside individuals with mental, physical, and intellectual disabilities. Our primary mission is to ensure our clients safely and happily live life on their own terms. Over the years, each of my clients has become a part of my family, and any harm against them is harm against my own. A state registry of abusers would create a powerful check on those motivated to commit abuses against people with disabilities, and my colleagues and I unequivocally endorse its passing. But, understandably, the appeals process is a commonly misunderstood piece of this legislation – one that is best explained via example.

Imagine bringing a client to the beach on a sunny summer day. It’s part of their work plan – and your job is to fulfill that plan. While you take extra care to ensure they apply (and re-apply) sunscreen, they insist on staying in the water all day, and later that evening you notice they developed a mild sunburn. You apply aloe and check in, but your client is unconcerned.

Days later, you find out you are being accused of neglect by state investigators as a result of that beach day. Your only legal recourse is to write up a description of what happened: without lawyers, without hearings, and without the ability of witnesses to weigh in. Ultimately, a state investigator deems the neglect “substantiated,” and you’re added to the registry, leaving an indelible mark on your record.

Unfortunately, this was the reality for one of my colleagues. Accusations of abuse and negligence have no degrees of variation in the eyes of the state, meaning those that commit the unspeakable are judged equally to a case of mild sunburn. I’ve seen my peers receive substantiated abuse and neglect charges for raising their voices, breaking up a fight among clients, or failing to report a bruise that appeared days after a client slipped and fell. Through no fault of their own, our clients often struggle to verbalize what’s around them, and their retelling of events is complicated. Yet in an environment where their understanding of the world falls in a grey area, the system of checks and balances for caretakers still remains in black and white.

I am a proud member of SEIU Local 509, a union that represents over 8,000 human service workers that provide direct care and support for the most vulnerable members of our Commonwealth. We care deeply about those we serve, but our work is some of the lowest-paying in the state, with many of us making less than the soon-to-be mandated $15 an hour. It’s not uncommon to see workers in our field juggle two or three jobs just to make ends meet. A mark on our record can – and has – cost us our livelihoods.

All of this speaks to the need to ensure a system of appeals for those accused of abuse and neglect. And there is precedent. Our colleagues at the Department of Children and Families have an already-established appeals system, which allows their workers to contest accusations of abuse or neglect. If found guilty, they are rightfully barred from working. Senate bill 2606 contains the type of due process that will alleviate the anxiety my colleagues and I face each day while also protecting the people we serve.

Meet the Author

Orlando Pena

Residential direct support professional, Bridgewell/SEIU Local 509
On behalf of my co-workers, I urge the Legislature to adopt this legislation as soon as possible, for the safety of ourselves, our clients, and the families we proudly serve.

Orlando Pena is a residential direct support professional at Bridgewell and a member of SEIU Local 509.