John O'Connor illustration
McKnight’s Editorial Director John O’Connor

It looks like Pennsylvania may become the next state requiring providers to notify the proper authorities when a registered sex offender moves in.

Ten states already have similar laws in place.

The various statutes are meant to protect residents and staff from sexual assaults in senior living settings. For a variety of reasons, it’s hard to know exactly how many of these attacks actually occur each year.

Many of the victims are too ashamed, fearful or incapacitated to report such crimes. Other times, such episodes are handled in ways that, shall we say, avoid negative publicity? Regardless, one transgression is one too many. Anything that can help here deserves thoughtful consideration.

It should be noted that for now, Pennsylvania’s measure would apply to only nursing homes. But it’s probably just a matter of time until other senior living settings would also need to comply.

I am generally opposed to new mandates being foisted on operators. But in this instance, such legislation is both welcome and long overdue. In fact, it’s truly unfortunate that every senior living community and skilled care facility is not already required to disclose the names of convicted sex offenders for all to see.

I say this for both professional and personal reasons.

On the professional front, the measure could actually prevent some very bad things from happening to operators. After all, who do you think families will sic lawyers on if or when they discover a loved one has been sexually assaulted while under your care?

On the personal front, you’re darn right I’d want to know if a person convicted of sexual assault is living in the same place as a loved one. Wouldn’t you?

Much has been written about how sexual offender laws and registries are rife with problems. Some measures are overly punitive. Sometimes names appear on the list that shouldn’t, and vice versa. To which I say, those are good points. Fix the shortcomings, but make sure safety remains the top priority.

For when it comes to choosing between protecting victims or their attackers, that’s really no choice at all.

John O’Connor is editorial director of McKnight’s Senior Living and its sister media brands, McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, which focuses on skilled nursing, and McKnight’s Home Care.