Iowa City officials address bill regarding sex offenders in nursing homes


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The introduction last month of a bill that would combat sexual abuse in nursing homes has sparked conversation of creating elderly care facilities specifically for sex offenders.

The bill, which is currently pending in the Iowa Legislature, would put the Iowa Department of Human Services in charge of placing sex offenders in proper care facilities.

Rick Shults, the administrator of the Mental Health and Disability Services Division at Iowa Department of Human Services, said he is neutral on the bill.

“It does give the department responsibilities that we will have to follow up on,” he said. “Should registered sex offenders need a level of care described on the bill … that would fall to us to make services available to them.”

Andy Maas, the administrator at Briarwood Health Care Center, 605 Greenwood Drive, said he supports the idea of a separate facility for sex offenders.

“There are some people out there who just seem to fall between the cracks,” he said. “They aren’t appropriate for a nursing-care facility or a dementia unit.”

But in an effort to keep residents safe, Maas said, he would not admit a registered sex offender to his elderly care facility.

“As a facility, we are always trying to protect every resident in the facility from harm,” he said.

Not only would this change affect local elderly care facilities, it would also affect registered sex offenders in Johnson County.

Lt. Raquel Wray of the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office said the department currently monitors 103 sex-offender registrants.

At the end of January, 5,821 registered sex offenders lived in Iowa, said Terry Cowman, Iowa Department of Corrections special agent in charge of the state’s Sex Offender Registry.

Elderly sex-offender registrants who require special care could end up in housing provided by the state.

The pending bill, House File 53, said the Department of Human Services could choose to use a state or private facility to house sex offenders who need special care after serving time in prison.

According to the bill, “the Department of Human Services may use a state facility to provide care for such persons or may conduct a request for proposal process to contract with a private facility to care for such persons.”

Shults said specialized facilities would create a divide between sex offenders and the public.
“It would have to be a nursing facility that would be specifically designed to serve individuals that are on the Sex Offender Registry so that they are not living with people from the general public,” he said.

Currently, no such specialized institution exists in Iowa, and while there has been talk of creating a facility specially catered to elderly sex offenders in the past, no money has been allocated to fund it.

Another key aspect of the bill would require Iowa nursing-care facilities to inform residents if a sex offender lives at the facility.

“What the bill envisions is that the nursing facility would have to notify residents and ensure their safety if they served a sex offender,” Shults said.

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