It was gratifying for me to see that the bill to protect older Georgians living in long-term care facilities passed the Georgia Legislature and was signed into law by Governor Brian Kemp on June 30.
A series of investigative stories last year by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution exposed neglect and abuse at long-term care facilities. The AJC’s stories made it clear that Georgia failed to protect these vulnerable residents and their families. The new law is meant to change all that.
For the first time, there are requirements for staffing levels, meaningful penalties for abuse, neglect and violations, testing and licensure for administrators, increased staff training, and certification process for Memory Care Units. While much of the law won’t take effect until July 2021, the provisions related to COVID-19 take effect immediately. These provisions require that all residents and staff of long-term care facilities be tested for COVID-19, notify families of an outbreak, maintain a seven-day supply of PPE, and develop a pandemic plan of action.
Before seeing the bill championed by Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, bill sponsor, and Kathy Floyd, executive director of the Georgia Council on Aging, I began working with Rep. Bee Nguyen, D-Atlanta, to craft legislative language that would protect mandatory reporters in long-term care facilities from termination or retaliation from their employer when the staff are mandated to report incidents. I was delighted when Chairman Cooper accepted our language and placed it in Section 1 of the bill. While Chairman Cooper and all aging advocates worked tirelessly to get this bill across the finish line, I am pleased we could champion workers throughout the process.
This is the first time in many years that a new law to protect employees has been passed in Georgia. Although this bill doesn’t go far enough, we hope to take further action next year to amend it through the Safety at Work Coalition that we are building to help lobby for and promote workers’ rights.
The broad support that House Bill 987 had from lawmakers, advocates, and the senior care industry demonstrated how important this legislation is to providing protection to some of our most vulnerable citizens.
I personally want to thank everyone who was involved in helping to get the new law passed.