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Alabama Makes History by Creating Nation’s First Elder Abuse Registry

A solitary wheelchair resting in the lobby of a nursing home. Abstract healthcare and disability image

If facilities don't cut corners when hiring staff, this could help prevent nursing home abuse and neglect

Last month, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed Shirley's Law to create the first-ever elder abuse registry in the United States, a move that on paper should help protect seniors in nursing homes and assisted living facilities from abuse and neglect.

The new state database will serve as a registry for those who have been convicted of elder abuse or have had protection orders issued against them for elder abuse. Along with nursing facilities, the new law will allow home health care agencies and other organizations that serve elderly patients to review the database before hiring staff members.

Prior to Shirley's Law, people who were convicted of mistreating senior citizens could fly under the radar when nursing facilities performed background checks during the hiring process.

“We need to have a place where all of the information can be stored in one location so that nobody slips through the cracks,” said Sam Smith, Director of Adult Protective Services with the Alabama Department of Human Resources.

Law named in memory of elder abuse victim

The legislation is named "Shirley's Law" in honor of Shirley Holcombe, a victim of elder abuse who died in 2018. Holcombe's daughter, Jo, spearheaded the campaign to create the elder abuse registry in Alabama and has passionately advocated for it to become law not just in Alabama, but throughout the nation.

“Think about the damage one person could do with multiple people,” Jo Holcombe said. “It needs to be a national law."

According to state data, elder abuse is on the rise in Alabama. Last year, there were over 11,100 reports of physical abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation. And those are just the cases that we know about. As we wrote about in February 2022, serious nursing home violations are often hidden from the public. That means it's likely the problem is a lot worse.

Nursing facilities can be held liable for hiring dangerous employees

Prior to hiring an employee, nursing homes and assisted living facilities should know if the candidate has a history of abuse or neglect. That's one reason why conducting thorough background checks is so critical. The problem is too many nursing facilities take shortcuts when hiring staff, and ultimately, it's the patients that end up suffering the consequences.

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities can be held legally responsible for acts of abuse and neglect on the grounds of "negligent hiring," that is, when an employer fails to screen a prospective employee and that employee later harms a resident. They can also be held liable for "negligent retention," which is when a nursing facility knows or should have known that an employee poses a risk but keeps them on staff anyway.

And while Alabama's new elder abuse registry will serve as a helpful tool to facilities during the hiring process, it will only work if it's put to good use. Keep in mind that background checks are an important part of the process, but nursing homes and assisted living facilities also need to ensure they have adequate staffing and high standards of care. Again, Shirley's Law is a step in the right direction, but it's only one piece of a much larger puzzle.

When to talk to a nursing home abuse lawyer

If your loved one is the victim of abuse or neglect at a nursing facility in Alabama, our law firm can help you hold the negligent facility accountable and fight for the justice your family deserves. Along with compensation for your losses, we can help you send a powerful message to other facilities that keeping residents safe needs to always be their top priority.

At Braswell Murphy, LLC, attorneys Kasie Braswell and Brian Murphy have a reputation for successfully handling nursing home abuse and neglect cases in Alabama and throughout the nation. Let our law firm aggressively advocate for your family's best interests and help you recover compensation for your damages.

To learn more about how we can help with your potential legal case, contact us today for a free consultation. There are no obligations, and everything you tell us will remain confidential. Our office is located in Mobile, AL, and we're available 24/7.

"I went through a difficult time after losing my Mother at a nursing home due to neglect. Attorney Braswell was very professional, responsive, knowledgeable, and provided timely updates. I will definitely refer all my friends to this law firm." - Deirdre S.

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