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Governor Ducey Issues Executive Order Enhancing Protections For People With Disabilities

After a 29-year-old woman with severe disabilities was raped and impregnated, allegedly by her nurse, Gov. Doug Ducey Wednesday issued an executive order that calls for more protections for people with disabilities.

The order calls on three state agencies — the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), the state Department of Health Services (DHS) and the Department of Economic Security (DES) — to better educate care-giving staff, contractors and vendors who work with people with disabilities on how to recognize and prevent abuse. Remember: this population is seven times more likely to experience sexual abuse than the general population.

After Hacienda, the governor now wants all protocols reviewed and new training developed, including annual training, to prevent abuse. We’re also talking new requirements here, like posting signage on how to actually report abuse and neglect.

Jon Meyers, who is with the ARC of Arizona, a disability advocacy group, said the executive order is a first step, but some major details are missing.

There are no specifics about who's going to pay for this or how its going to be paid for, and providers have a legitimate concern about what this is going to do to their budgets, because this is yet another requirement on them that is going to affect their bottom line. And they're already being squeezed by increases in minimum wage and increases in cost of doing business, and state reimbursements definitely have not kept up with those cost increases. 

Another issue, says Meyers, is training. The governor's executive order will require more training for individuals who interact and engage with people with disabilities. And while facilities are supposed to provide training on abuse and neglect, the governor also wants facilities to train staff on how to recognize signs of abuse or neglect. 

For example, Hacienda Healthcare, the facility where the young woman who was raped lived, had a training module. But what if a person is non-verbal? How do caregivers know when something is wrong?

Meyers said, "Working with a population that in many cases is non verbal makes it especially challenging. That's not to say it can't be done. And there are programs that exist that have come a long way toward helping providers to do that. It's never going to be entirely perfect. We really have to do the very best we can to help providers recognize whats going on and to develop and utilize communication tools that promote communication between people who cant necessarily speak what they're thinking or what they're experiencing."

Another point made in the order is Adult Protective Services’ 400-plus page registry of people who were found to have abused or exploited people with disabilities and seniors.

Gov. Ducey’s order now says AHCCCS, DHS and DES — all state contracts related to the care of people with disabilities — have to check that registry before hiring someone. It is important to note that this list has existed for some time, and yet they didn’t have to check this list. Ducey is saying now you have to.

And that’s why folks like Meyers and some of the other disability advocates get so frustrated. In fact, Meyers called it a "glaring oversight." That is something that should have been happening and it shouldn't take an executive order to mandate that.

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Kathy Ritchie has 20 years of experience reporting and writing stories for national and local media outlets — nearly a decade of it has been spent in public media.