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AZ lawmakers move 3 bills aimed at improving oversight, accountability of group homes

Though it’s still early in the new Arizona legislative session, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee has passed a trio of bills aimed at increasing oversight and accountability in group homes that serve people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

Lawmakers heard devastating testimony from parents about their children’s experiences in group homes. 

"Multiple times staff accidentally gave my son another resident psychotropic medication," said Susan Sunseri who was talking about her then 16-year-old son. Sunseri also said there were no cleaning supplies and very little food at the group home. "When I asked staff when they would be shopping for food, they claimed they had run out of food money and didn't know when they would have more." 

Another parent Cynthia Elliot showed photographs of burns her adult daughter sustained.

"No one has ever been able to explain how she got those second-degree burns," she said "And I will tell you, you do not want to experience listening to your handicapped child scream while they treat burns at a burn unit."

One of the bills that moved would  require video cameras in common areas of group homes. Another measure would create a  new category of group homes for individuals with behavioral challenges.

Jon Meyers is with the Arc of Arizona, a disability advocacy group. 

"That this bill requires all of these new types of staff members, all of these new training requirements and appropriate certification, or credentialing, and so forth, and it says nothing about how that's going to be paid for."

And that’s a very real concern for a system that is already underfunded by roughly $150 million, according to Meyers. 

KJZZ senior field correspondent 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.