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A registry for health-care assistants is expected to make it harder for someone to abuse senior citizens or people with profound disabilities and then move on to other jobs in the same field if they're caught.

As of this past July, all health-care assistants must register with the state's Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing.A health-care assistant is anyone who provides "hands-on" care in a state-licensed facility such as a nursing home, skilled nursing home, hospital or psychiatric facility, according to Laura Poe, bureau manager in the division.

"If we get a complaint for client abuse, we can act and even revoke the registration," Poe said. Without the registration, the individual would not be able to work in a health-care profession in Utah.

"In the past, nursing assistants had to be certified, but there are a lot of other people like aides who help patients with daily living activities like bathing and eating. They didn't have to be registered at all.

"Someone (who was abusive) could just leave that long-term setting and find work elsewhere. This closes the loopholes and broadens who must be registered," she said.

There's still nothing to keep someone accused of abusing a patient from moving to another state to find work. But federal officials have discussed setting up a federal registry of health-care assistants. If that ever happens, Utah will be ready, Poe said.

The registry's procedure is simple. If someone complains that a health-care assistant has abused a patient, the complaint will be screened, then reviewed with the bureau manager to decide if further investigation is warranted. If a case is opened, investigators will gather as much information as possible and work toward settlement, which could include either temporary or permanent suspension of registration.

No unsubstantiated claims of abuse will be listed on the registry.