Colorado’s Citizen Legislature
By Doris Beaver
Colorado has the dubious distinction of being one of three states in the country that does not require certain professionals to report the abuse or exploitation of at-risk adults. Senate Bill 13-111 was introduced by Senator Evie Hudak to correct this vast hole in the safety net for the most vulnerable of our citizens.
An “at-risk adult” is defined as “any person who is seventy years of age (sixty under current law) or any person who is eighteen years of age or older and is a person with a disability . . .” but for this column, provisions of the bill that apply to at-risk elders will be presented. SB 111 “creates a new class of protections for Ôat-risk elders’ who are defined as any person age 70 and older.”
Senate Bill 13-111: The legislative declaration of SB 111 includes these ominous findings on at-risk elders:
- mandatory reporting of abuse or exploitation of at-risk elders should be implemented in Colorado as soon as possible;
- the state’s elderly population of persons aged seventy or older is expected to increase 28 percent by 2017 and 142 percent by 2032; and
- Colorado’s system of adult protective services is already grossly underfunded, but with the absence of additional funding, requiring implementation of mandatory report of abuse and exploitation of at-risk elders is likely to exacerbate the problems faced by adult protective services personnel by increasing their individual caseloads.
In the 2012 legislative session, SB 12-078 created the elder abuse task force and submitted its final report to the General Assembly, which included recommendation concerning “reporting by certain professionals of instances of mistreatment, exploitation or self-neglect of at-risk adults and the administration of adult protective services by county Department of Social Services.”
Also set forth in SB 111 is what actions the General Assembly expects should be taken to address specific recommendations of the task force:
- implement a new data system within the state Department of Health and Human Services to measure impact of mandatory reporting;
- appropriate additional moneys to reduce the caseload ratio of county social workers to a maximum of 25 cases per social worker
- study need for and potential means of implementing a public guardianship and conservatorship program;
- conduct a study to implement specific recommendations for combating financial exploitation of elder adults; and
- identify assured and sustainable sources of funding to support the enforcement of mandatory reporting and the overall adult protective services infrastructure.
Most likely by now, the reader realizes from this brief introduction the complexity of abuse of at-risk elders. Now for the specifics of SB 111.
Mandatory Reporting: Effective July 1,2014, SB 111 adds emergency medical service providers, physical therapists, clergy members and chiropractors to the list of helping professionals (mandatory reporters) required by state statute to report known or suspected abuse of at-risk elders and to make a report within 24 hours.
Penalties: Failure to make a mandatory report is a class 3 misdemeanor. A person who files a report in good faith is immune from civil action or criminal prosecution.
Investigations: Law enforcement agencies are required to complete a criminal investigation when appropriate and to provide a summary of investigation reports to the relevant county department of social services and district attorney.
Training: The Peace Officer Standards Training Board (P.O.S.T.) in the Department of Law is required to develop and implement a training curriculum no later than January 1, 2014; said training is to assist peace officers in recognizing and responding to incidents of known or suspected abuse and exploitation of at-risk elders. On or after January 1, 2015, local law enforcement agencies are required to employ at least one officer that has completed the new P.O.S.T. training.
Implementation of mandatory reporting: A program must be implemented as of January 1, 2014 by the Department of Human Services (DHS) to generate awareness among the public and mandatory reporters about the mistreatment, self-neglect and exploitation of all at-risk adults, including at-risk elders, with a report on the implementation due to the General Assembly by December 31, 2016.
Background statistics provided in the fiscal impact analysis show a total of 11,000 new reports of abuse, exploitation or neglect of at-risk adults were filed in Fiscal Year 2011-12, of which 4,733 (43 percent) required investigation (no break-out provided for at-risk elders).
The mandatory reporters listed in SB 111 is lengthy, but important for public awareness: physicians, surgeons, physicians’ assistants, osteopaths, physicians in training, podiatrists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, medical examiners, coroners, registered nurses, licenses practical nurses, nurse practitioners, emergency medical service providers, hospital and long-term care facility personnel engaged in the admission, care or treatment of patients, chiropractors, psychologists and other mental health professionals, social work practitioners, clergy, dentists, law enforcement officials and personnel, court-appointed guardians and conservators, fire protection personnel, pharmacists, community-centered board staff, personnel of banks, savings and loan associations, credit unions and other lending or financial institutions and a caretaker, staff member, employee or consultant for a licenses or certified care facility, agency, home or governing board, including but not limited to home health providers.
After minor amendments, SB 111 was referred to the Committee on Appropriations with favorable recommendation.
Lead Sponsors of Senate Bill 13-111: Senator Evie Hudak (D-Jefferson) 866-4840; and Representatives Sue Schafer (D-Jefferson) 866-5522, and Amy Stephens (R-El Paso) 866-2924.
Doris is a freelance journalist who writes from her home high in the Colorado Rocky Mountains on senior issues, politics, ethics and environmental issues. Visit her website www.dorisbeaver.com.