SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday signed a bill introduced by a Contra Costa County assemblywoman that would require certain care facilities serving elderly adults and those with disabilities to immediately notify police and family members when a person in their care goes missing.
Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan's bill, AB620, was signed into law after passing out of the Legislature with strong bipartisan support, officials said.
Before the law's enactment, facilities were required only to notify the state when residents went missing in their care, a mandate that alarmed and frustrated families of elderly and disabled individuals. The new law will require adult care facilities to create comprehensive safety plans, and to contact police and family immediately.
"This bill was a high priority for me," Buchanan said. "We were surprised to learn that current law has no requirement for a facility to notify family or law enforcement."
The idea was brought to Buchanan, D-Alamo, by constituent Denise Lester, a Walnut Creek woman whose daughter Caitlin, 25, wandered away from her Concord care home in July 2012 and was hospitalized for three days to be treated for septic shock.
"The bill will protect disabled adults and give family members peace of mind knowing that proper procedures are in place should their loved one go missing," Lester said. "The night my daughter went missing, I learned that common sense was not common at all."
Lester's daughter wandered the streets for several hours before the facility contacted police or her family.
In the case of 86-year-old Yolanda Membreno, whom Buchanan also mentioned in her testimony, employees at Julia's Home in Concord did not notice the elderly woman was missing for more than an hour. She was found dead of heat stroke five hours later, on a playground 100 yards from the facility's door.
"You could see where the body was from the front door," Sabrina Sanchez, Membreno's daughter-in-law, said in November. "Time was critical for her."
Several agencies that advocate for the elderly and people with disabilities, including the AARP, Alzheimer's Association, State Council on Developmental Disabilities, and The Arc & United Cerebral Palsy California Collaboration, supported the bill designed to "protect vulnerable members of our communities."
Nearly 2,000 dependent adults were reported missing in 2011, and elder advocates say a quick response is key to clients' safety.
"It's common sense for you and me," said Gayle Larson, a field representative for Buchanan. "If it's not required, things can slip through the cracks. And people have slipped through the cracks with pretty significant consequences."
Follow Erin Ivie at Twitter.com/erin_ivie.