Special Reports

Kentucky personal care home death leads to 'Larry's Law' bill

Falmouth Nursing Home has submitted a state correction plan that includes training and new policies to monitor patient whereabouts.
Falmouth Nursing Home has submitted a state correction plan that includes training and new policies to monitor patient whereabouts.

As a result of the death of a resident of a personal care home, two lawmakers have filed bills that would require people to be screened before being admitted to one of the facilities.

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. In 2011, there were 82 free-standing personal care homes in Kentucky serving more than 3,000 people.

In August, Larry Lee, 32, who had a brain injury from a childhood accident and was schizophrenic, bipolar and diabetic, went missing from Falmouth Nursing Home, a personal care home.

Lee was found dead near the banks of the Licking River about four weeks later.

On Tuesday, state Rep. Terry Mills and state Sen. Jimmy Higdon, both from Lee's hometown of Lebanon, introduced legislation in his memory.

If House Bill 307, sponsored by Mills, is approved by the Kentucky General Assembly, it would be known as Larry's Law. The law would require an individual to be examined and assessed by a medical professional before admission to a personal care home, and it would require further assessment of the degree of disability for an individual with an acquired brain injury who was being considered for placement.

Also under the bill, no one younger than 18 could be admitted to a personal care home.

"My intent with this bill is simple: It's to prevent what happened to Larry Lee from happening to anybody else in this state," Mills said Wednesday.

Higdon, a Republican, filed Senate Bill 115. It would require an evaluation by a qualified mental health professional before someone enters a personal care home. Higdon said the state would be required to pay for the assessments. It's not clear how much that would cost, he said.

Personal care homes could not afford to pay for the assessments, he said.

Higdon said he and Mills, a Democrat, looked at a variety of issues surrounding Lee's death.

"This is the only thing that we found that could have saved Larry Lee," Higdon said. "His condition was too severe. He should have never been in a personal care home."

Lee was made a ward of the state because his family said they were advised it would improve his access to better services. Advocates have said state officials should have placed him at a facility that provided specialized care for brain-injured residents rather than at a personal care home, and Mills said he agreed.

Mary Hass, the advocacy director of the Brain Injury Alliance of Kentucky, said the professional conducting the assessment should be someone who could determine the degree of the disability of a person with a brain injury. She said she hoped the legislation would "prevent deaths such as Larry Lee's ... prevent people who have severe brain injuries from being placed in a personal care home."

Jill Midkiff, spokeswoman for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which oversees personal care homes, said the cabinet had "not yet completed our review of these bills."

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