End-of-session package installs framework for investigating elder abuse in Kansas

Rep. Susan Concannon says legislation to combat elder abuse was inspired by Kaufman House horrors in Newton. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — A package of bills aimed at curbing elder abuse and creating more communication with various agencies that work with seniors was met with support by lawmakers on the final day of the regular session.

The three pieces of legislation focus on ways state and local agencies can improve communication with each other to ensure elder abuse isn’t slipping through the cracks. The legislation would require the Attorney General’s office to appoint a Kansas elder and dependent abuse multidisciplinary coordinator for each judicial district.

That coordinator would then create a team or task force for each judicial district that includes the county sheriff, the district attorney of each county, secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families, secretary for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, and the state long-term care ombudsman, in addition to local law enforcement and medical, legal services, financial services and housing providers.

Those teams would work together on investigations of elder and dependent adult abuse.

Rep. Susan Concannon, a Republican from Beloit and the chairwoman for the committee, said during the bills’ discussion that the legislation stemmed from the 2004 case of sexual, physical and financial elder abuse that prosecutors described as “involuntary servitude” at the Kaufman House in Newton. 

According to the Disability Rights Center of Kansas, at least 12 reports of abuse and neglect were made to the State of Kansas, including four reports from former residents or their families, before the home was shut down. Concannon said the aim of the coordinator position is to ensure that what happened in Newton doesn’t happen again. 

“It was discovered that there were a lot of entities that knew about this but they weren’t communicating with each other,” she said.  

Beyond the abuse coordinator positions, one of the bills would create the Kansas Senior Care Task Force, which would bring together experts and various governmental agencies to study the more complex issues facing elderly Kansans. The third bill modernizes the state’s language around elder abuse. Concannon said Kansas is the only state to currently separate fiduciary abuse from other forms of elder and dependent abuse.  

The task force would study care for seniors with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and related conditions; how antipsychotic medication are administered to adult care home residents; ways the state can prevent abuse, neglect, and exploitation of seniors; and how the state will fund and implement the Senior Care Act, among other topics.

“We have run into several issues in our Children and Seniors Committee that are really kind of complicated, with Medicare, Medicaid and liability, those types of things that require some experts in the room, so that’s why we wanted to put together this task force,” Concannon said. 

The bills were sent to Gov. Laura Kelly after passing both the House (115-7) and Senate (34-4) during the last day of the regular legislative session, April 9.