Colorado Legislature Being Asked to Pass Law to Stop Elder Abuse
By Eileen Doherty
(Denver, CO) Elder abuse is considered to be on the rise in the United States. It is estimated that nationally more than 1 million individuals are victims of elder abuse. In Colorado, during fiscal year 2007, Adult Protective Services received approximately 11,000 reports of adult mistreatment and self-neglect. Approximately 6,400 cases were active during fiscal year 2007.
The Elder Abuse Task Force, appointed by the Colorado legislature, notes the problem is increasing and will continue to do so given the increase in population due to the baby boomers reaching retirement age in the next 20 years. Colorado is only one of three states that do not require mandatory reporting of abuse, neglect and exploitation. Rather individuals are encouraged to report.
Recent findings of the Elder Abuse Task Force recommend that the Colorado legislature pass a bill to require reporting. Senator Evie Hudak (D) and Representatives Sue Schafer(D) and Amy Stephens(R) are asking fellow legislators to pass a bill that would require professionals such as physicians, nurses, social workers, home care personnel, nursing home personnel, clergy, financial institution personnel, and licensed individuals who observe abuse, neglect and exploitation of individuals age 70 and over to report the incident to law enforcement within 24 hours. If a mandatory reporter fails to report the abuse, neglect or exploitation, the individual would face a minimum fine of $500 and/or six months in jail.
The proposed bill defines an at-risk elder as anyone age 70 and over.
Under the proposed bill, law enforcement would be required to report abuse or exploitation to the county department of human services and to the district attorney’s office. Law enforcement is required to complete a criminal investigation when appropriate.
Individuals who report the abuse or exploitation are immune from prosecution if the report is made in good faith. False reporting can carry a minimum fine of $50 and/or six months in jail.
The proposed bill increases the penalties for individuals who exercise undue influence to convert or take possession of an at-risk elder’s money, assets, or property. An individual who is convicted of such an act would be prosecuted for statutory theft.
In addition to mandatory reporting to law enforcement, professionals, as well as volunteers are urged to report an observation of mistreatment, self-neglect or exploitation to Adult Protection Services at the county department of human services within 24-hours as well. The Task Force recommended that the size of the caseloads be capped at 25 individuals to ensure that services can be provided to at-risk individuals. Additional provisions include funding for shelter, food, clothing, and other needs that an at-risk individual might need while the case is being investigated and/or the individual is removed from the abusive situation.
Funding is also being requested to improve the skills of law enforcement, as well as county workers. The bill would also require increasing community awareness and raising the consciousness of the people of Colorado to reduce the vulnerability of at-risk older adults.
If you have witnessed a case of elder abuse or want more information, feel free to call 303-333-3482.
Eileen Doherty, M.S. is the Executive Director of the Colorado Gerontological Society. She has more than 35 years of experience in gerontology in administration, research, training and education, and clinical practice. She is an instructor in Nonprofit Organizations at Fort Hays State University. She can be reached at 303-333-3482.