The attorneys and staff with the law office of Althauser Rayan Abbarno provided information about a new law passed by the Washington State Legislature and signed by the Governor in 2023. In 2022 the DSHS investigated 66,000 reports of vulnerable adult abuse and neglect. This new law enhances the work of the DSHS Adult Protective Services and its collaboration with outside partners.


The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) investigates the abandonment, abuse, financial exploitation, neglect, or self-neglect of vulnerable adults. Statutes require DSHS to maintain a vulnerable adult registry containing persons subject to substantiated findings of abandonment, abuse, exploitation, or neglect of a vulnerable adult, and prohibit hiring persons who appear in the registry or are subject to other similar reports.

A vulnerable adult includes a person who is: sixty years of age or older, and has the functional, mental, or physical inability to care for themself; found incapacitated, meaning the individual is at significant risk of personal harm based upon a demonstrated inability to care for themself; a person with a developmental disability; admitted to any facility; receiving services from a home health, hospice, or home care agency; receiving services from an individual provider; or self-directing their own care, and receiving services from a personal aide.

Reports of abandonment, abuse, financial exploitation, neglect, and the identity of a person making such a report are confidential. All files, reports, records, communications, and working papers used or developed in the investigation or provision of protective services are confidential.

Mandated reporters include, employees of DSHS, law enforcement officers, social workers, health care providers, and individual providers.

The New Law

  • Definitions of Mandated Reporter and Individual Provider.
    • The definition of mandated reporter is modified to include employees of the DCYF and operators and employees of certified residential services and supports agencies.
    • The definition of individual provider is modified to match the definition used elsewhere in statute, which includes persons who provide personal or respite care through a consumer directed employment arrangement, in addition to persons who provide care pursuant to a contract with the DSHS.
  • Confidentiality and Information Sharing.
    • Upon request, the DSHS and law enforcement must share with one another information in reports and findings of abandonment, abuse, financial exploitation, and neglect of vulnerable adults consistent with other confidentiality laws.
    • When information regarding a specifically named vulnerable adult is requested, the DSHS may disclose the following information: (1) whether or not a report was received; (2) the status of the report; and (3) the outcome of any investigation. However, the DSHS may not disclose this information in certain circumstances, including when the requestor is the alleged perpetrator or disclosure may compromise an investigation or endanger a person.
    • Confidential information relating to vulnerable adults may be disclosed as authorized by the Office of Developmental Disabilities Ombuds program.
  • Autopsies and Postmortems.
    • Reports and records of autopsies and postmortems may be disclosed to the DSHS in cases being reviewed under laws for the protection of vulnerable adults.