Bill aims to track abuse of vulnerable adults.

At the 1977 dedication of a building bearing his name in Washington, D.C., former vice president Hubert Humphrey said: "The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped."

"It's a test that we quite frankly fail in this country, because we don't value older people," said Cindy Coker, public services director for the S.C. Bar. "We've got to take a look at valuing and honoring and caring for people who are aging, because if we're lucky, we're all going to live long enough to be old."

A bill currently before the S.C. House Judiciary committee seeks to address the well-being of the elderly by providing an additional layer of protection for S.C.'s aging population. The Vulnerable Adult Maltreatment Registry Act would require the S.C. Law Enforcement Division and the S.C. Department of Social Services to establish a registry of abuse, neglect or exploitation of vulnerable adults.

Questions surround the bill, such as how a perpetrator would land on the registry and which state agency would be responsible for maintaining it, but experts on aging and eldercare agree it is a valid idea, at least in principle.

"The key point is accountability," said Johnny Belissary, administrator of New Generations Adult Day Centers, which has facilities in Florence and Marion and plans to expand to Greenville. "We have to be able to protect our seniors. We have an aging state. People migrate to our beautiful sands and shores every day, some with money, some with just enough to retire, and some, unfortunately, (who) are struggling to get by. With an aging population in the state (and) because we're a destination state, we have to protect people."

While nursing homes have rating systems to help consumers check for violations and nursing professionals must maintain state licenses, in-home health care providers can operate with less scrutiny. Offenses that don't rise to the level of criminal convictions like assault or fraud won't show up on background checks.

"Some people don't have the means to go to assisted living and they don't quite need the skilled care that a nursing home would provide," said Belissary, also an attorney who works with the S.C. Institute of Medicine and Public Health on long-term care issues. "How do we protect these people? How do we keep bad actors from...

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