U.S. to hear about Oklahoma's separate sexual-offender, long-term care facility 

With the ink from the governor's signature barely dry on a bill to create a separate long-term care facility for registered sex offenders in Oklahoma, the issue is now going before the federal government.

MISSION
GAO REPORT

Officials with U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin's office confirmed to Oklahoma Gazette a hearing will take place later this month in Washington, D.C., to discuss the issue. The hearing will be held before the House Small Business Committee. Fallin's office stressed no conclusions have been drawn, and that the purpose of the hearing is to help determine whether such a problem exists on a national scale.

Whatever the purpose, it was welcome news to Wes Bledsoe, who has been pushing the issue for several years.

"It is the best opportunity to date for our congressional leaders, the media and the citizens to learn about predators in America's long-term care facilities," he said. "My hope is Congress will take appropriate and swift action to resolve this crisis, which far too often results in the murder, rape, sexual and physical assault on long-term care residents, staff and even visitors."

MISSION
Bledsoe, founder of nursing home watchdog A Perfect Cause, just fulfilled one mission when Gov. Brad Henry ceremonially signed House Bill 2704 on June 10 at the state Capitol. The new law gives the state the authority to set up a stand-alone facility to house sex and violent offenders in need of long-term care. The measure does not build a new facility but calls on existing nursing homes in Oklahoma to bid on a contract with the state to house the offenders. It must be a facility separated from other residents, and will be paid for through Medicaid fund reimbursements.

Shortly after the bill's signing, Bledsoe met with Fallin to discuss whether the U.S. Congress should get involved. While Oklahoma officials became convinced something had to be done to prevent potential predators from abusing nursing home residents, the question of what level of threat there is of abuse remains unanswered by the federal government.

GAO REPORT
In March of 2006, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report on the very subject. While the report, which studied seven states including Oklahoma, found nearly 700 sex offenders living in nursing homes, it did not recommend immediate action on that particular issue.

"While long-term care facilities may learn that certain of their residents are sex offenders or parolees through required community notification or through other means, our findings did not indicate that residents with prior convictions are more likely than other residents to commit abuse within these facilities," the report states.

The Oklahoma Association of Health Care Providers told Gazette it supports legislation that will help protect its residents.

"We have supported (HB 2704) that will create a separate, secure and safe placement for sexual offenders in Oklahoma," said OAHCP Executive Director Rebecca Moore. "Although the creation of this type of facility is in its infancy stage, this will help in providing needed services to those convicted of violent crimes. These individuals deserve and need health care, but we don't want them to be a threat to our residents." "Scott Cooper

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