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Audit recommends SC Legislature require a central registry for abuse of vulnerable adults

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COLUMBIA, South Carolina — An audit of the agency that serves South Carolinians with disabilities finds the Legislature can curb abuse and neglect by requiring a central registry and allowing electronic monitoring of facilities' common areas.

The Legislative Audit Council report released Monday says employers need a database to search for any past abuse, neglect or exploitation of a vulnerable adult. At least 20 states already have an adult abuse registry.

Gloria Prevost, director of Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, called the registry critical.

"That is something our state direly needs for the protection of people with disabilities," she said. "If I ran a program, I would want to know who I'm hiring."

The audit also recommends that all caregivers undergo a national, fingerprint-based criminal check and a national sex offender registry check. Those are among two of the 12 recommendations still not implemented from the audit council's 2008 report. Prevost said she's concerned so many things are left over.

According to the audit, 31 of the 63 recommendations for the agency were completed and 17 were partially implemented. The Legislature made none of the three law changes the 2008 report recommended.

The Department of Disabilities and Special Needs' policy follows state law on background checks, and in some cases exceeds requirements, said spokeswoman Lois Park Mole. Currently, if a potential new hire has been a resident of South Carolina, a check through the state database is sufficient. The ages of those being served by a facility also is a factor. If the Legislature required the additional checks for all, the agency would promptly adjust its policies, she said.

She acknowledged the agency could change its policies without legislative action, but said that would require additional funding. She did not know how much.

The audit estimates, according to its visits at a sampling of facilities, that one in four people who work directly with vulnerable adults are hired without knowledge of their potential criminal histories. It said some facilities had conducted no background checks at all.

Mole said some contracted providers aren't following existing policy. The agency runs four regional residential facilities for those deemed to be the most fragile, but it contracts with local providers for other services.

"That does need to change because the background check is very important," Mole said. "The health and safety of individuals in DDSN care is job one. Everything's done to put individuals at minimum risk."

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