Bills Passed to Assist Rhode Island’s Seniors, Disabled

Printed in the Woonsocket Call on July 7, 2019

With the dust settling after the adjournment of the Rhode Island General Assembly’s 2019 legislative session on June 30, 2019, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo halfheartedly signed the state’s 2020 fiscal year $9.9 billion budget into law.

The newly enacted budget closes a $100 million budget gap while avoiding new taxes for businesses, fully funding the state’s education aid formula, continuing to phase-out the car-tax, maintaining fiscal support for municipalities. And, State lawmakers did not forget older Rhode Islanders and disabled persons, putting tax dollars into programs assisting them.

Included in the state budget signed by Raimondo is $499,397 to fund the Rhode Island Livable Home Modification Grant Act that was introduced by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara, D-Warwick, Cranston and Sen. Walter S. Felag Jr., D -Bristol, Tiverton, Warren.

The grant allows eligible homeowners and renters to retrofit their residence to nationally recognized accessibility standards and receive 50 percent of the total sum spent, up to $5,000, to retrofit their existing residence.

The intent of this state program is to assist older Rhode Islanders and disabled persons to stay safely in their homes longer rather than being admitted to costly nursing homes, which costs taxpayers millions of dollars each year in Medicaid costs. With the graying of state’s population, there is a need for housing that is safe and adapted to the needs of their older occupants. (The Livable Home Modification Grant Application and Post-Retrofit Claim form can be found at http://www.gcd.ri.gov.)

Meanwhile, aging advocates gave the thumbs-up to Rhode Island lawmakers who eliminated a sunset provision in the state budget for a program that provides fare-free bus passes to low-income seniors and elderly Rhode Islanders, making this program permanent.

Awaiting the Governor’s Signature

The General Assembly passed legislation (S 0691A, H 6219), introduced by Senator Frank S. Lombardi, D-Cranston and Rep. Evan P. Shanley, D-Warwick, that would help caregivers to build onto their houses to provide space for relatives. The measure now moves to the governor’s office for consideration.

The passed legislation expands the definition of “family member” for purposes of zoning ordinances to include child, parent, spouse, mother-in-law, father-in-law, grandparents, grandchildren, domestic partner, sibling, care recipient or member of the household.

Under the legislation, the appearance of the home would remain that of a single-family residence with an internal means of egress between the home and the accessory family dwelling unit. If possible, no additional exterior entrances would be added. Where additional entrance is required, placement would generally be in the rear or side of the structure.

This legislative session, State lawmakers also approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Adam J. Satchell D- West Warwick and Rep. Robert E. Craven, D- North Kingstown, to establish a formal process recognizing “supported decision making,” a structure of support for disabled or aging individuals.

The legislation, which now heads to the governor’s desk, establishes a system of personal support that is less restrictive than guardianship to help individuals maintain independence while receiving assistance in making and communicating important life decisions. It is aimed at providing an alternative with more self-determination for individuals who are aging or who have developmental or intellectual disabilities.

Under the bill (2019-S 0031A, 2019- H5909), Rhode Islanders would be able to designate another person, or a team of people, as a supporter who would help them gather and weigh information, options, responsibilities and consequences of their life decisions about their personal affairs, support services, medical or psychological treatment, education and more. The supporter would also help the individual communicate the person’s wishes to those who need to know.

The legislation creates a legal form that establishes the agreement between individuals and their supporters, and designates the types of decisions with which the supporter is authorized to help. The bill establishes that decisions made with support under such an agreement are legally valid, and allows supporters to assist with the accessing of an individual’s confidential health and educational records.

It also requires that any other person who is aware that an individual is being abused, neglected or exploited by their supporter is obligated to report that abuse to the proper authorities.

Protecting Rhode Island’s Seniors and Disabled from Financial Exploitation

Sen. Valarie J. Lawson, D-East Providence and Rep. Joe Serodio’s D-East Providence, legislation (2019-0433A, 2019-H 6091A), “Senior Savings Protection Act,” was passed by the General Assembly and now heads to the Governor’s desk for signature.

The act would require certain individuals to report the occurrence or suspected occurrence of financial exploitation of persons who are age 60 and over or those with a disability between the ages of 18 and 59 years old.

According to the legislation, if a qualified individual, a person associated with a broker-dealer who serves in a supervisory, compliance or legal capacity, believes that financial exploitation is taking place, or being attempted, the individual must notify Rhode Island’s Department of Business Regulation and Division of Elderly Affairs, and law enforcement. The individual may also alert immediate family members, legal guardians, conservators, or agents under a power of attorney of the person possibly being financially exploited.

The legislation also calls for the Department of business Regulation and the Division of Elderly Affairs to develop websites that include training resources to assist in the prevention and detection of financial exploitation against Rhode Island’s seniors and disabled.

Combating Alzheimer’s Disease

With the number of persons with Alzheimer’s Disease expected to increase in the coming years, the General Assembly approved bills to better support Rhode Islanders affected by debilitating mental disorder and to protect against elder abuse. There are an estimated 23,000 Rhode Islanders age 65 and older living with Alzheimer’s disease. In just six years, the number is expected to increase to 27,000.

The Rhode Island General Assembly approved legislation (S 20223, 2019-H 5178) sponsored Sen. Cynthia A.Coyne, D-Barrington, Bristol, East Providence, and House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi, D-Warwick, to establish a program within the Department of Health dedicated to Alzheimer’s disease, and create a 13-member advisory council that would provide policy recommendations, evaluate state-funded efforts for care and research and provide guidance to state officials on advancements in treatment, prevention and diagnosis. The bill is based on legislation signed into law last year in Massachusetts.

The legislation requires the Department of Health to assess all state programs related to Alzheimer’s, and maintain and annually update the state’s plan for Alzheimer’s disease. It would also require the Department of Health to establish an Alzheimer’s disease assessment protocol specifically focused on recognizing the signs and symptoms of cognitive impairments, and appropriate resource information for effective medical screening, investigation and service planning. The legislation would also require caseworkers working with the Department of Elderly Affairs to become familiar with those protocols. Additionally, the legislation would require a one-time, hourlong training on diagnosis, treatment and care of patients with cognitive impairments for all physicians and nurses licensed in the state.

Most importantly, adoption of the legislation would enable Rhode Island to qualify for federal funding that is available to help states with their efforts to support those with Alzheimer’s disease.

Also gaining final Rhode Island General Assembly approval was legislation (2019-S 0302A, 2019-H 5141) sponsored by Sen. Coyne and Rep. Joseph M. McNamara, D-Warwick, Cranston, to allow the spouses or partners of patients residing in Alzheimer’s or dementia special care unit or program to live with them, even if they do not meet the requirements as patients-themselves.

Finally, Sen. Coyne, who lead the Senate’s Special Task Force to Study Elderly Abuse and Financial Exploitation, successfully spearheaded an effort this session to pass legislative proposals to beef up the state’s efforts to combat elder abuse, that is growing and vastly under reported. For details, go to herbweiss.wordpress.com, to access the June 30 commentary, “Senate Task Force Calls for Action to Combat State’s Growing Elder Abuse.”

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