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State unsure how many sex offenders in nursing homes
State corrections officials say they're not sure how many convicted sex offenders may be sharing living space with vulnerable adults at nursing homes. The practice of housing sex offenders in specialized nursing homes attracted widespread attention last week when Attorney General Mike Hatch filed a complaint against Concordia Care Center in Minneapolis for alleged abuses committed by offenders against other residents. Legislative hearings into the matter, however, show there's no clear indication of how widespread the problem may be.

St. Paul, Minn. — Concordia had been home to five previously convicted sex offenders, four of whom had already completed their prison terms and had been sent to the facility as part of their supervised release. The state also houses some offenders at the state-run Ah-Gwah-Ching nursing home in Walker.

But Corrections Commissioner Joan Fabian told a House panel that her department has no clear idea on how far the practice extends beyond those two facilities.

"That had never been a data element that we collected," she said. "We have over 220 agents that we're trying to get this information from, and we've also been contacting the CCA agents who provided for the supervised release."

CCA stands for Community Corrections Act and refers to probation supervisors and service providers at the county level. Fabian says that adds another layer of complexity to the problem of tracking which sex offenders may be receiving treatment in what nursing homes.

Rep. Bill Hilty, DFL-Finlayson, says he'd like to see better data collection.

"Apparently, the Department of Health doesn't keep track of this in any way. And I don't know that we know at this point how many other offenders are committed in this way or to where," he said.

The concern stems from a complaint filed last week by the attorney general's office, claiming that sex offenders living at Concordia assaulted other residents of the facility. Concordia is a special-needs facility that serves developmentally disabled adults.

Representatives of the nursing home didn't testify at the hearing but have previously disputed the attorney general's allegation. Nevertheless, Deputy Attorney General Michael Vanselow repeated the charge that Concordia failed to protect its residents.

"We have locked vulnerable female adults in with convicted sex offenders. Locked them in! And we have had actual assaults... we're not doing this to prevent a hypothetical problem in the future," Vanselow said.

State corrections officials say they had been assured that Concordia could manage safely sex offenders, and they've been asked to report back to lawmakers in 10 days with ideas for reform.

Rep. Steve Smith, R-Mound, who chairs the Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee, extended similar invitations to other state agencies and corrections providers. Smith says lawmakers could consider the issue in next year's legislative session. In the meantime, he suggests state officials can take administrative action to house sex offenders who need long-term care separately from other nursing home residents.

"Maybe we can actually in the next 10 days come up with some clear suggestions that would be devoid of the political harangue we might throw at each other during a committee hearing or during a session. Maybe we can actually come up with some good proposals that we can forward to each other and then on to the governor and get this resolved," he said.

Some lawmakers also questioned why more than $7 million to renovate sex offender treatment facilities in St. Peter had gone untouched for roughly four years. But Smith and others note that those rooms are designated for the state's civil commitment program, which is a distinct and separate issue from the offenders housed in nursing homes.

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