States acting on risk from sex offenders

As the evidence mounts that patients and long-term care residents can be threatened by the presence of sex offenders in their facilities, some communities are responding with efforts to protect the vulnerable.

One advocacy group, A Perfect Cause, based in Oklahoma City, reports that it has documented more than 50 crimes committed between 2002 and 2006 by 44 sex offenders and other criminals living in long-term facilities. Those crimes include sexual assaults, rapes, and four murders. A Perfect Cause is urging lawmakers to require public notification when a sex offender is admitted to a health care facility, says the group's president, Wes Bledsoe.

Lawmakers in some communities are taking notice. Legislators in Ohio are pushing a proposal that would require long-term care facilities to post notices if sex offenders are present. The bill was proposed after an 18-year-old patient was raped by a 43-year-old sex offender living in the same facility in 2005. The woman is mentally disabled and schizophrenic, and she had only been in the facility for 10 days when she was raped, Bledsoe says. The rapist pleaded guilty and is serving three years in prison.

The U.S. House of Representatives small business investigations subcommittee recently held a hearing on sex offenders in long-term care facilities, considering a proposal to require that law enforcement and social service agencies inform long-term care facilities about a patient's sex offender status. Some states already are taking action. California, Illinois, Minnesota, and Oklahoma have passed laws that mandate notifying long-term care facilities when sex offenders are admitted. Oklahoma also recently began investigating the possibility of opening a long-term care facility just for sex offenders.

Hillsborough County, FL, enacted a law that says sex offenders may not be admitted to long-term care facilities unless their status is disclosed, and then the facility must separate them from other residents.