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State launches committee to review deaths of vulnerable adults

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Michael Lyle, Nevada Current
March 7, 2024

In an attempt to uncover policy gaps that might have contributed to the death of people with physical and mental disabilities, the state recently began a committee to review fatalities of vulnerable adults.

The findings are expected to highlight systemic barriers and recommend policy changes, but the committee won’t be investigating care facilities or individuals for criminal activity, said Michael Morton, a special assistant with the Nevada Attorney General’s office who also chairs the review committee.

While reviewing cases of suspected maltreatment, the committee’s charge is to look for  “statutory, legislative or policy gaps” that could be putting people at risk, Morton said. 

Assembly Bill 119, which was passed during the 2023 Legislative Session, established the  Vulnerable Adult Fatality Review Committee.

A “vulnerable person,” as defined by state law, is someone 18 or older who suffers from a physical or mental development disability or mental illness or a person who has “one or more physical or mental limitations that restrict the ability of the person to perform the normal activities of daily life.”

“If there is suspicion there is maltreatment, the committee would study those fatalities so we better understand the causes of these deaths and how to reduce them,” said David Orentlicher during the bill hearing in 2023.

Orentlicher said the state already has fatality review committees for domestic violence, children and maternal mortality. 

Cases can be referred to members by social workers and law enforcement or the Aging and Disability Division,  which is part of the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services and oversees programs for Nevadans with disabilities or special health care needs. 

Committee members heard three cases during their first meeting last week, though Morton couldn’t share specifics. 

Since case files and records being looked at might include sensitive information, such as medical records, the committee isn’t open to the public or subject to open meeting law. 

“We are reviewing a lot of medical records,” Morton said. “In some instances the cases still might be open from a law enforcement perspective, and so the legislature, when it decided to pass this bill, made it a confidential committee.” 

Though the legislation only mandates two meetings per year, Morton said the committee “could always call more meetings if we need to.”

The legislation also requires the findings from the review to be submitted yearly to the Legislative Committee on Seniors, Veterans and Adults with Special Needs as well as the Attorney General’s office. 

Orentlicher said the attorney general is then required to “develop a plan to address the findings” and hold a public hearing about efforts to address the report. 

“What they learn as they review these fatalities can be used to promote policy changes in both government and private agencies, identify gaps and barriers to services for victims prior to death, increase public awareness and positively impact the safety for Nevada residents,” Orentlicher said during the 2023 hearing.   

Nevada isn’t the first state to create a committee to review vulnerable or older deaths, Morton said, though each state takes a different approach on carrying out the mission. 

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: info@nevadacurrent.com. Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Nevada Current under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.