Thursday, December 20, 2007

"Elder Abuse" Responses Vary by State

On December 16, 2007, The Providence (RI) Journal posted an excellent article entitled "Response to elder abuse varies widely across U.S.", by Tracy Breton, which summarized results of that newspaper's 50-state survey about "elder abuse" reporting & response.

Every year, an estimated 2.1 million older Americans are victims of physical, psychological or other forms of abuse, according to the American Psychological Association. Congress says the number could be closer to 5 million.

But the nation’s safety net for seniors is not nearly as good as it is for children.

A survey of all 50 states conducted by The Providence Journal over the past several months shows that even though most states have mandatory reporting laws for elder abuse, fewer than half of them have statewide, 24-hour-a-day hot lines to record complaints and offer immediate response.

By contrast, all but five states have social workers on duty 24 hours a day responding to complaints of child abuse — even though the elderly population is booming. * * *

But there are seven states that don’t have any after-hours hot line services for the elderly to report abuse, and most states that do take calls on nights and weekends don’t provide immediate response from a social worker. That leaves victims with no one to turn to after state government closes down for the day — unless the victims want to call in the police or the local sheriff. And that doesn’t often happen.

That’s because most elder abuse and neglect occurs in domestic settings. Ninety percent of the time, the perpetrator is a family member, most often an adult child or spouse, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse. And most elderly people don’t want a loved one sent to prison, even if the abuse is recurrent. Many depend on the perpetrator to perform essential tasks for them such as cooking, driving and cleaning. If their abuser is incarcerated, many of them would have to move into a nursing home.

Consequently, just 1 in 14 incidents of elder abuse is ever reported to the police. And the figure is even less for financial exploitation: Current estimates put the overall reporting of elder financial exploitation at only 1 in 25 cases. * * *

The article notes, of course, the reporting & response system in Rhode Island, as well as Massachusetts & Connecticut. But Florida's extensive & well-funded system is highlighted.

Florida's elderly population is the highest in the nation, so it faced "elder abuse" cases more frequently than other states. That situation now spreads to other states, such as Rhode Island, as the general American population ages:
The elderly, which the federal government classifies as anyone over 62, are the fastest-growing segment of the nation’s population.

In 2005, almost 17 percent of Rhode Islanders were 62 or older, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2030, almost 25 percent of the state will be populated by people 62 or older; just 5 percent of the state will be younger than 5. From 1990 to 2000, Rhode Island experienced a 30.5-percent increase in the number of residents aged 85 or older.

Over the next 30 years, the proportion of the entire U.S. population over 60 will drastically increase as more than 76 million baby boomers age. * * *
Pennsylvania is also advanced in efforts to address "elder abuse", which likely will expand as our population, already quite sedentary, ages. For more details, read the many posts on this Blog under the heading "Elder Abuse", including (most recently) "POA Abuse Cases Pressed by PA AG" (12/03/07).

This article then considers the effect of the federal "Elder Justice Act" legislation, which despite reintroduction annually, still remains only a proposal, with seeming low political & funding priorities.

If the Elder Justice Act — introduced in the U.S. Senate nearly six years ago — ever passes, it would provide hundreds of millions more in federal financing for adult protective services to the states — money to detect, investigate, prevent, prosecute and study elder abuse and to train more people who interact with victims.

The act would also provide money for research and data collection to track elder abuse and determine the effectiveness of various forms of intervention to make elders safer. But there is no line item in the bill that would compel the states to create statewide hot line services to respond to after-hours complaints. So unless the legislation is amended, experts say, there will be continuing disparity in how the states respond to this problem. * * *

The Elder Justice Act, which has been stalled in Congress for years, recognizes that “differences in state laws and practices in the areas of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation lead to significant disparities in prevention, protective and social services, treatment systems and law enforcement, and lead to other inequities.” * * *

The article examines efforts by some of the states -- Delaware, New Mexico, & West Virginia, for example -- to identify elder abuse through "hotlines", but finds them wanting in effectiveness.

Perhaps I should revisit some assumptions noted in my prior post, "
Verizon's "HopeLine": Phones in PA?" (09/25/07) -- as to states other than Pennsylvania.

I had the impression that, in other states, the needs for reliable reporting of "elder abuse" were met by such "hotlines".

According to this article, they are not.