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Here’s how things have changed for people with disabilities after Hacienda

(AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — An executive order, several laws and countless news stories in the past eight months have highlighted some of the changes put in place following the sexual assault of an incapacitated woman who later gave birth at a Phoenix care facility.

But what has really changed since the Hacienda HealthCare scandal?

Erica McFadden, executive director of the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, told KTAR News 92.3 FM that while there has been progress, it’s not as easy to measure as one might think.

“I can tell you that there has been a lot of momentum when it comes to what needs to be done in Arizona when it comes to recognizing abuse and neglect of vulnerable adults,” McFadden said.

In February, Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order to extend protections of people with intellectual disabilities and other vulnerable adults.

The executive order requires care agencies to go through Adult Protective Services before hiring caretakers and require them to take abuse and neglect training in order to work with vulnerable adults.

McFadden and the ADDPC, as well as other disability advocates, have also worked with the Governor’s Office and state Legislature to pass 13 laws this year to extend protections for people with disabilities.

“Before, when you reported a case of neglect, you had to show a pattern,” McFadden explained. “That legislation now has changed so that now you only have to have one instance of neglect for [Adult Protective Services] to go investigate.”

The council also met this summer to discuss further research that needs to be done on the topic, to brainstorm how to better educate people about sexual assault resources and to draft suggestions for legislators.

And while these are important steps and she’s thankful they’ve been taken, McFadden said it’s still not enough.

“For many in the disability community there’s a lot of impatience because we do not want to ever see what happened at Hacienda to ever happen to anyone again,” she said.

“That was ridiculous and horrible, and we think a lot of these changes should have happened yesterday. Even though there’s all these positive things that have happened and momentum, it’s just not enough for disability advocates. Action needs to happen now.”

One of the biggest areas left for growth is education.

“Just for people with a cognitive disabilities as a whole, [sexual assault] is seven times the rate of people without any disabilities,” McFadden said.

“For women with cognitive disabilities, that rate is 12 times the rate of anybody else. We’re already at higher rates of abuse in general, but those numbers are shocking.”

The council will reconvene in September to determine what immediate action is required to make sure the executive order and other laws are being implemented effectively.

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