FRANKFORT — Seven months after a brain-injured resident disappeared from a Falmouth personal care home and died, a bill aimed at preventing similar deaths moved closer to becoming law Tuesday.
The House Health and Welfare Committee made one change to Senate Bill 115 before unanimously approving it and sending it to the full House for consideration in the final days of this year's legislative session.
The sponsor of the bill, Republican Sen. Jimmy Higdon of Lebanon, said Larry Lee never should have been placed in the personal care home.
Lee's family conducted an extensive search to find Lee, 32, of Lebanon, who had a history of mental illness, but it was four weeks after his August disappearance before Lee's body was found on the banks of the Licking River not far from Falmouth Nursing Home in Pendleton County.
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The personal care home where he was placed by the state did not have adequate services for Lee, his family said.
Higdon's bill would require potential residents at personal care homes to be screened by medical professionals to determine whether a personal care home is an appropriate placement.
There are about 2,500 to 3,000 people in 82 free-standing personal care homes across Kentucky. Personal care homes provide long-term care for people who do not need full-time nursing care but need some assistance. Many of those served by such homes are mentally ill or mentally disabled.
Personal care homes receive a limited amount of money — about $60 a day — to provide care to people with complex problems, Higdon said.
"There are a lot of good personal care homes," Higdon said.
But there are a lot of personal care homes that are not equipped to deal with people who have complex psychiatric problems, he said.
The House committee adopted a committee substitute to the bill that would raise the age to be placed in a personal care home from 16 to 18. It was offered by Rep. Terry Mills, D-Lebanon.
Rep. Jimmie Lee, D-Elizabethtown, said the legislation is much needed but said state funding is inadequate to help needy people.
Last week, a watchdog state agency released a report that said the continued placement of mentally ill residents in Kentucky's personal care homes is a violation of federal disability laws.
Kentucky's personal care homes unfairly segregate people with disabilities from the community, denying residents their right to interact with non-disabled people to the fullest extent possible, according to a report by Kentucky Protection and Advocacy. The group is an independent state agency that protects and promotes the rights of people with disabilities.