There's a refreshing honesty in the Beshear administration's plan for strengthening investigations into abuse and neglect at Kentucky's nursing homes.
The recommendations, though modest and requiring no action by the legislature, can make a positive difference for thousands of vulnerable Kentuckians.
Additional recommendations, expected in the near future, would require changes in state law and probably some additional funding. But it's good the administration is moving quickly on what can be done now.
Responding to reporting by the Herald-Leader's Valarie Honeycutt Spears and Beth Musgrave, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services examined itself and discovered that inconsistencies in practices allow for "inadvertent failure to provide proper and timely notification" to law enforcement agencies when there is suspected neglect and abuse of nursing home residents.
So the cabinet plans to implement a standard protocol to improve intake and notification.
Joint investigative teams would be established by the Department for Community Based Services and the Office of the Inspector General, under another recommendation.
There are recommendations to revive and re-purpose an Elder Abuse Committee that has fallen dormant and to improve training for law enforcement and long-term care providers.
Altogether there are 20 recommendations, including some identifying areas for further study.
Gov. Steve Beshear asked for the plan after the Herald-Leader examined 107 Class A citations, those in which a resident's life or safety is endangered, and found that only seven of the 107 cases resulted in criminal prosecutions. The citations involved 18 deaths, 30 hospitalizations, five broken bones and two amputations.
The reporters also found that coroners and local prosecutors often aren't notified of suspicious deaths and injuries at nursing homes.
Not every Type A citation involves a crime, and no one is advocating a witch hunt against underpaid, overworked nursing home employees. But the huge gaps in the adult protective system almost invite abuse.
Meanwhile, no one should delude themselves into thinking cost-free solutions alone will tighten all the gaps.
As the cabinet reports, adult protective services teams carry case loads that are even heavier than those of child-abuse investigators.
The elder-abuse investigations involve complex medical issues, require multiple interviews and present difficult challenges coordinating with other agencies.
That said, recognizing a problem is the first step to solving it. What the administration has done is a good first step.