In preparation for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15, I wanted to bring attention to elder abuse and take a look at four states taking steps to protect our senior population.
What is Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse is the harm to or exploitation of an elderly person. It can be physical, psychological, sexual, or financial abuse. It can come in the form of neglect or abandonment. This study found that those in the elder community who have experienced physical or psychological abuse, caregiver neglect, or financial exploitation were twice as likely to need hospital care, in relation to non-abused elders. Research also indicates that as many as 50% of elders with dementia suffer from some sort of abusive behavior at the hands of their caregivers. Elder abuse is a rampant problem, but what are we doing, as a community and a nation, to start solving the problem? The following is a look at several communities and the steps they are taking to address elder abuse.
San Diego’s Blue-print
Most folks think of white, sandy beaches and an amazing zoo when they think about San Diego, not crime. However, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan noticed an increase in elder abuse claims and she did something about it. In March 2018, Ms. Stephan’s office compiled a blueprint designed to better protect the elderly. (The initiative also is designed to protect dependent adults or those with mental disabilities.)
The goal of the blueprint is to help police and first responders to better identify and investigate abusive situations involving at-risk elders. The blueprint offers lists of questions to ask and instructions on how to better interact with the elderly community, especially those with dementia. The blueprint also helps police connect seniors with community resources when needed. With better education and direction, the San Diego Police Department will be better equipped to battle elder abuse.
Maryland’s Investigation Crack-down
Statistically, Maryland had a dismal report when it came to nursing homes and elder abuse. According to a 2017 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Maryland was the seventh-worst state for on-time investigations of nursing home complaints.
In response, the Maryland legislature passed two bills in 2018 that would require the Maryland Department of Health to launch an investigation within ten business days upon receiving a complaint alleging harm in a nursing home. If a complaint asserts that there is immediate jeopardy to a nursing home resident, the department should start their inquiry within 24 hours, but are required to do so within 48 hours. To help with these new guidelines, the Office of Health Care Quality will receive ten new, full-time employees. Maryland’s initiative is to take elder abuse claims more seriously and to respond timely to complaints.
West Virginia’s Litigation and Prevention Unit
In March 2018, West Virginia took steps to protect their senior citizens by creating a new Elder Abuse Litigation and Prevention Unit. The Unit will create a hotline for seniors to call if they feel like they are in an abusive situation. The Unit will have a database of the email addresses and phone numbers that scammers use, to be able to warn seniors of schemes intent on defrauding them. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey lamented: “Senior citizens represent the best of what West Virginia has to offer. Unfortunately, all too often con artists, deceptive businessmen, caretakers, and even family members take advantage of our elderly friends.”
What’s more, the Unit will actually prosecute those responsible for the elder abuse. Consumer protection laws will be enforced, deceptive business practices will be exposed, and overcharging incidences will be scrutinized. The Unit will also aid seniors with powers of attorney, guardianships, and funeral contracts. West Virginia is giving power back to seniors.
Have a client who wonders what happens in their loved one’s nursing home room when they are not present? Do they suspect abuse and want to find out the truth? Some states allow a family member to put a Granny-cam into their loved one’s nursing home room, and many more states are considering similar legislation this year – Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Texas, and Louisiana.
Louisiana’s House of Representatives, in April 2018, approved such legislation. Republican Kirk Talbot headed up House Bill 281, which mandates that nursing home administrators cannot prohibit a family member or guardian from placing a camera in a loved one’s quarters. The camera-related costs will be paid by the family member installing such a device and certain privacy waivers will have to be signed. Of course, any roommate would have to be informed and give consent. The bill now goes to the Senate, and if approved there, will go to the governor’s desk for signature. Louisiana hopes to give confidence to those that have a loved one in a nursing home facility, to ensure their loved one is getting proper care.
Elder abuse is a problem for us all, not just those caring for a senior. Communities and legislative bodies are recognizing that we all need to come together to implement change to address elder abuse. Whether it is educating police officers, requiring nursing homes to respond to allegations timely, creating a prevention and litigation unit, or allowing granny-cams, folks are getting creative and serious about finding solutions. What will you do to help in the fight against elder abuse?
Join us on July 12 for a webinar on this very topic. E. Elizabeth Loewy, J.D., Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer, EverSafe, will be joining us to discuss common elder financial abuse schemes, how to spot red flags and tips for advance planning.