The Nebraska legislature voted 26-13 on Wednesday to create a special committee to study assisted living facilities where residents primarily have diagnoses of mental illness.

The seven-member State-Licensed Care Facilities Oversight Committee of the Legislature will issue a report by Dec. 15, according to LR 296, after studying:

  • The reasons that assisted living facilities are the primary residential options for people with severe and persistent mental illness and why alternatives such as permanent supportive housing and services do not exist;
  • Whether the state Department of Health and Human Services is taking adequate steps to ensure that behavioral health services are administered in the most integrated setting pursuant to the Americans With Disabilities Act;
  • Conditions of state-licensed care facilities;
  • Treatment of residents in state-licensed care facilities;
  • The effectiveness of regulation and licensure by the Division of Public Health in providing oversight; and
  • How the state DHHS implements and administers behavioral health services through the behavioral health regions to address the needs of residents.

The committee also will examine the recent closures of two Life Quest facilities.

An incident at a Life Quest facility in Palmer, NE, reportedly was an impetus for the resolution creating the committee. The resolution was sponsored by state Sen. Lynne Walz, a Democrat.

An 80-page report on violations there “sat on a desk” at the state DHHS in 2017 and was not acted on, Walz said in a statement. A resident of the facility who had uncontrolled vomiting and diarrhea later died because of the state’s failed oversight safeguards, she said.

“The report of events that led to the veteran’s death is one of the most appalling things I’ve ever read,” Walz said. “I knew I could not in good conscience disrespect her life with inaction.”

The original resolution proposed by Walz included a broader selection of assisted living facilities, but through an amendment, the focus was narrowed to assisted living facilities “where many of the residents are diagnosed with a mental illness.” The committee’s purpose also was changed from investigative to oversight.

State Sen. Sara Howard, a Democrat, supported the resolution and the amendment. A constituent recently told her that a facility had been without hot water for three weeks, she said in a statement, adding that she (Howard) received a “weak” response from DHHS regarding related sanitation issues.

“But they didn’t do anything, and they haven’t done anything,” Howard said. “I think that LR 296 could not be more timely. I will not be the only senator who will hear about facilities in his or her district where individuals who are vulnerable are not being taken care of in the manner in which a proud Nebraskan should be. We should be ashamed of the way people are treated in these facilities.”