Elder abuse began to be recognized in the mid 1980s, and in line with growing concerns and more reports, state governments started enacting laws to specifically protect seniors from neglect, violence, and financial exploitation.
Because the elderly are kept in nursing facilities or in their own homes with caretakers, identifying abuse proves to be difficult. Family members perpetrate the crime, while the victim, perhaps experiencing dementia or Alzheimer’s, is isolated and may be confused about the caretaker’s behavior, let alone if and with whom a report can be filed. It’s estimated that up to 10 percent of all seniors experience elder abuse, but less than 20 percent of all instances are reported.
Yet, if you’re leaving your loved one in someone else’s care, multiple laws and organizations have been set up with his or her safety in mind.
Adult Protective Services and Other Organizations
In 1965, the Older Americans Act became law. This action put into place various services and support systems for elderly adults, including Meals on Wheels and the Administration on Aging, which allots and manages grants to state agencies, such as the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA).
More recently, the Vulnerable Elder Rights Protection Program, started in 1992, set up state ombudsman offices to advocate for and protect against abuse and neglect and to provide legal assistance. The Elder Justice Act, part of the Affordable Care Act, further funds Adult Protective Services and is applied by the Elder Justice Coordinating Council.
At the state level, Adult Protective Services (APS) receives and investigates all reports of elder abuse, evaluates a victim’s risk and his or her abilities to understand the risks, puts together case plans, and arranges for needed care. The organization’s case workers are the first to respond to and investigate reports.
States have their individual laws concerning elder abuse. Those found physically harming, neglecting, or financially stealing from an elderly individual often receive stricter penalties and longer jail time. A few states, in fact, consider targeting elderly residents a hate crime.
Because fraud against the elderly continues to grow, costing $2.9 billion in 2009 and potentially affecting one in five seniors, certain states penalize those perpetrating scams against the elderly.
In Connecticut, the state’s General Statues Chapter 319aa for the Office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman, section 17b-407 requires all individuals to report suspected abuse, neglect, exploitation, or abandonment concerning the elderly, and those that don’t face a penalty. As well, those that report, even if the report is not accurate, are protected from retaliation.
Along these lines, certain classes of professions are required to report elder abuse to APS:
• Medical professionals
• Healthcare workers
• Mental health counselors
• Service providers
• Government agents
Additionally, states frequently offer 24-hour hotlines to make reporting a concern easier and quicker.
For lawsuits concerning elder abuse or neglect, civil liability is handled at the state level. In these trials, states must allow the plaintiff to recover punitive damages, court costs, fees, and even compensatory damages. As well, lawsuits may be filed in response to homes or individual caretakers inadequately providing treatment, making medication errors, defrauding, or physically abusing patients.
Trantolo & Trantolo has long represented the elderly. If you suspect a loved one was abused, neglected, or defrauded and have an open claim, contact our Connecticut law firm to speak with an experienced attorney.