The Best of…Nationally Elder Abuse and Neglect on the Increase

           Published June 25, 2001, Pawtucket Times

           Although numerous federal studies and Congressional hearings have put the public spotlight on elder abuse and neglect over the years, a Special Senate on Aging panel calls for the nation to get serious to tackle this all-to-common tragedy, called by some “the dark side” of aging. 

           “With the senior population skyrocketing, incidents of elder abuse will only continue to rise,” warned Democratic Chairman John Breaux of Louisianato his panel colleagues at the June 14th hearing.   At the hearing Senator Breaux took over the reins of the Aging  Committee from the former Chairman Republican Larry Craig ofIdaho, with the Senate majority tipping to the Democrats.  Initially it was Senator Senator Craig who had planned and put the hearing on the Senate schedule.      

           At the  hearing, Chairman Breaux estimated that more than 820,000 older and developmentally disabled individuals are subjected to abuse, neglect and exploitation.  Meanwhile, throughout  the hearing “Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation: A Hidden National Tragedy,” several witnesses testified that this number is too low because of underreporting and there are no universal definitions of what is elder abuse and neglect.  To combat abuse, Chairman Breaux and the witnesses called for more funding to be provided to adult protective services, better training for medical personnel to identify the problem early and more resources for caregivers to help them with their caregiving responsibilities.

            Despite the fact that many believe that elder abuse and neglect take place in nursing facilities and assisted living facilities, most often times it occurs in a person’s home where nearly 95 percent of all domestic long-term care is being informally provided by family members and community-based caregivers, noted Chairman Breaux.

            Summing up testimony from hearing witnesses, a Senate Aging Committee staffer told The Times that elder abuse can be caused by social, medical and legal factors.

             “We are expecting families to provide a large amount of long-term care and we give only minimal assistance and support to them,” the Senate staffer said.  To deal with social factors causing elder abuse and neglect, “we need more respite care and training in care giving skills.” he added.   

             As to medical factors, the Senate staffer added, “it is crucial that better training be made available to physicians and nurses to recognize the early signs of elder abuse itself.”  If this occurred there could be much quicker interventions, he said.  

             Finally, legal factors, specifically the lack of funding for elder protective services, reduce the effectiveness of prosecuting persons who financially exploit elderly.

                 So what’s happening inRhode Island?

             According to Wayne Farrington, Chief of Facilities Regulation,Rhode Island’s Department of Health, elder abuse is on the increase in nursing facilities and assisted living facilities across the state.  “This year we have had about a 15 percent increase in reports of abuse, neglect or mistreatment,” he says.  Farrington speculates that the rise in reporting is a result of a better informed public who know where to register complaints combined with increased publicity over the staffing shortage in nursing facilities and community-based provider agencies.  The shortage of nursing assistants, who provide most of the direct patient care, along with nurses oftentimes results in the facility not being able to provide the needed care.

            “Because neglect abuse and mistreatment are criminal matters they are turned over to the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General for further investigation and prosecution, Farrington says.  “If we find that facilities have violated regulations that have resulted in the abuse or neglect we will cite the facility with deficiencies that may be tied to civil monetary penalties.

           According to Medicaid Fraud Unit Chief Bruce Todesco, of the state’s Office of the Attorney General, there are really no accurate statistics or numbers that tell the incidence of elder abuse and neglect inRhode Island.  “A lot of information comes from different sources,” he said, stressing that it would take a lot of work to pull together meaningful statistics.

           Adds, Genevieve  Allair-Johnson, Special Assistant Attorney General who serves as Elderly Affairs Liaison for Criminal Division, in the Attorney General’s Office, elder abuse and neglect cases may be under reported because the elderly person does not want to proceed against the child and competency issues often times come into play.

           “We work closely with the Department of Elderly Affairs and local police departments and provide them with legal assistance in their investigations, Allair-Johnson says.  “When discussing a case sometimes it comes up that additional inquiries will have to be made to bring about charges.”   

            Allair-Johnson states “Many times criminal charges will not be filed in cases because high standards must be met.”   Rather than filing criminal charges for elder abuse or neglect other options are in place like removing the elderly person from a home, or seeking a court ordered guardianship.

          Over the last few years the Office of the Attorney General has developed effective partnerships with the local police departments, Department of Elderly Affairs, and the Alliancefor Better Long-Term Care,” Allair-Johnson says.  “There are a host of state agencies and resources that are beginning to pull together to resolve this elder abuse issue. We’re going in the right direction.”

          To obtain materials on elder abuse, including the pamphlet “The Elder Victims Guide to the Criminal Justice System,” or to seek information about consumer issues or to report elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation, call the Attorney General’s Senior Line at 888-621-1112. 

          If one has a reasonable knowledge and suspects an elderly person has been abused neglected or mistreated in a nursing facility call the Division of Facility Regulation at 222-2566.

          Herbert P. Weiss is a Pawtucket, Rhode Island-based  free lance writer covering aging, health and medical care issues,  This article appeared in the June 25, 2001 in the Pawtucket Times.   He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

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