Leaders pledge support for responding to servitude case

JOHN HANNA
Associated Press
Posted on Thu, Feb. 09, 2006
TOPEKA, Kan. – Legislative leaders promised Thursday to push for new laws to protect the disabled and mentally ill from abuse after the federal court convictions of a Newton couple for abusing adults in their care.

In the case of Arlan Kaufman, 69, and Linda Kaufman, 62, prosecutors produced evidence that their treatment center for the mentally ill had nude therapy sessions and forced residents to have oral sex and to perform other sex acts with each other while being videotaped. He was sentenced to 30 years and she to seven years.

Two former residents of the Kaufmans’ center told legislators in meetings Wednesday and Thursday that they were placed in a locked “seclusion” room naked for days at a time, that residents were often left on their own and that medications weren’t properly supervised.

They, the attorney general’s office and the Disability Rights Center of Kansas are seeking legislation to create a special unit in the attorney general’s office to investigate potential abuse, neglect and financial exploitation.

They also want to prevent financial exploitation of the disabled and mentally ill by court-appointed guardians.

At trial, prosecutors showed Kaufman wrote nearly $97,000 worth of checks from January 2001 to May 2004 from the account of a center resident for whom he’d been appointed guardian. Many were made out to the treatment center, signed by Kaufman and endorsed by his wife.

“This is an absolute travesty that took place,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka. “It should never happen again anywhere.”

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt agreed.

“I think there’s a lot of interest in fixing what in hindsight are the obvious problems in the system,” Schmidt, R-Independence, told the two victims and supporters of the legislation during a private meeting. “It’s bipartisan.”

The Kaufmans’ home was not shut down despite a 1991 Kansas Supreme Court ruling that it needed to be licensed, along with repeated reports of abuse and a 2001 raid in which videotapes of the nude therapy sessions were seized.

Nancy was the first former resident to report problems in the 1980s. She said no one in authority believed her.

House Speaker Doug Mays said the victims’ compelling stories make legislation “a real priority.”

“We have to take whatever measures necessary to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” said Mays, R-Topeka.

Rocky Nichols, the Disability Rights Center’s executive director, said state oversight of group homes and treatment centers focuses on licensing and requiring written plans of action when violations are found, not making life better for the residents.

He noted that some residents were at the Kaufman center for more than 20 years.

“You lock a person in seclusion for three weeks, which clearly violates their human, civil, legal rights, and the bureaucratic, licensure response is, ‘Oh, you better not do that again. We’re going to cite you on rule XYZ and you come up with a plan of action,'” Nichols said.

“What about the person who got locked in the seclusion room for three weeks? Where’s the justice for them?” he said.

Kaufman case bills are SBs 239 and 240; HBs 2306 and 2307.

On the Net: Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org

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