Hearings have been held. Studies have been done. Investigations have been conducted. Now the legislature wrestles with how best to protect the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled from abuse.

A St. Louis Post-Dispatch series on mental patient abuse prompted formation of the Mental Health Task Force and an investigation by the Mental Health Commission. Then, the Anderson Guest House burned in late November, killing 11. More investigations were conducted. Senate Leader Michael Gibbons (R-Kirkwood) tells a Senate committee that SB 3 seeks to improve safety and increase accountability. Gibbons says the purpose of his bill is to provide a better framework to protect vulnerable people under the state’s care, to give the public the ability to understand the process of investigating abuse claims and to ensure there are consequences for bad action.

Gibbons has added a requirement to his bill; that all residential facilities have sprinkler systems, no matter how old. That provision grew out of the investigation of the Anderson Guest House fire. The Anderson House was a private facility that didn’t have a sprinkler system. Current law only applies the sprinkler requirement to facilities that provide the highest care and it exempts facilities built prior to 2000. Some have objected to requiring all facilities to have sprinkler systems, claiming that it would be so expensive, some operators would be forced out of business and a chronic shortage of beds in the state would be made worse. Lt. Governor Peter Kinder, who co-chaired the Missouri Mental Health Task Force, suggests the committee consider creating a state revolving loan fund to provide low-interest loans to operators to retrofit their buildings.

Gibbons says one of the provisions in the bill he considers very important is the establishment of a Mental Health Fatality Review Board to review all suspicious deaths of mentally ill or developmentally disabled patients. He says such a board would also provide family members a means of appeal if they hold suspicions about the death of a loved one. Reports of abuse investigations would be made open to the public, with private information excluded. Penalties for providers who don’t correct problems disclosed in a state investigation would face much more expensive fines. The bill increases the daily fine from the current $100 to $10,000. Penalties for mandated reporters who fail to report abuse would be stiffen under provisions of the bill.