SACRAMENTO -- A Contra Costa state assemblywoman has introduced a bill that would subject adult care facilities to strict notification requirements when a patient goes missing.
Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan's bill, AB 620, would require adult care facilities to create safety plans and contact police and family members of residents who vanish. Currently, the facilities are required only to notify the state.
"It's common sense for you and me," said Gayle Larson, a field representative for Buchanan, a San Ramon Democrat. "But it's not required. If it's not required, things can slip through the cracks. And people have slipped through the cracks with pretty significant consequences."
Two such cases in Concord -- one with fatal results -- were detailed in this newspaper in November.
The fatal case was the story of 86-year-old Yolanda Membreno, who walked away from Julia's Home in Concord on Sept. 30. Employees did not contact police until more than an hour after noticing her missing. A few hours later, she was found dead on a playground about 100 yards away. An autopsy determined she died of heat stroke.
In the second, Caitlin Lester, a 24-year-old developmentally disabled woman, left a Concord facility last year and wandered the streets for several hours until police were contacted.
Buchanan's bill came at the urging of Caitlin's mother, Denise Lester.
"I am just beside myself with joy," Lester said Wednesday. "It's encouraging -- there's strength in numbers."
Caitlin Lester expressed her happiness non-verbally during a conversation with her mother.
"I explained to her how a bill works, how it ends up at the governor's desk," Denise Lester said. "I told her, 'We're going to make it so that this isn't going to happen anymore, what happened to you.' And she gets it."
In its current form, Buchanan's bill does not spell out the maximum length of time a patient is missing before facility workers must contact police and family. Larson said that will be negotiated later.
The bill will first be assigned to a policy committee before it winds its way through the legislative process. If approved, a person who violates the provisions of the bill could be found guilty of a misdemeanor.
"Everyone's reaction is 'Of course you'd call police immediately,' " Lester said. "When you tell them 'No,' that's when people's jaws drop. Basic human dignity is missing in this equation."