The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday by voice vote approved two bills that seek to prevent neglect and abuse of elderly patients, CQ Today reports.

One bill (S 1070), sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), would authorize $777 million to establish state and local training and assistance programs for long-term care employees. In addition, the legislation would establish a database used to identify and track elder abuse cases. Bill co-sponsor Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) said, "Every year, millions of American seniors are victims of abuse and neglect. This bill will bring focus to the problem of elder abuse and elevate it to the same level as other family violence issues." A companion bill (HR 1783) awaits a vote in the House.

The second bill (S 1577), sponsored by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), would seek to establish a nationwide system of background checks to screen potential long-term care employees for a history of abuse or a violent criminal record. The legislation, which would expand a seven-state pilot program established under the 2003 Medicare law, would provide as much as $160 million in grants over three years to states that seek to participate in the program. Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said, "The earlier demonstration project kept thousands of prospective employees with disqualifying criminal records from gaining access to nursing home residents and other frail patients," adding, "Patients are safer because of that law."

According to CQ Today, the Senate "has a limited number of days to try" to reach agreement with the House on the bills, which "groups representing America's elderly are pushing as a major priority." In a letter to Baucus and committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations wrote, "With few legislative days remaining ... it would be tragic to allow any more older Americans to suffer the pain of abuse, neglect and exploitation because Congress failed to act" (Mattingly, CQ Today, 9/11).

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