NCPEA - National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse

Senate Hearing Brings Elder Abuse to Light

 

By Jeff Beam, Communications Manager for NCPEA

March 2, 2011:    The US Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing today on the topic of elder abuse prevention. Titled “Justice For All: Ending Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Financial Exploitation,” the hearing brought together a panel of experts to testify on how to eradicate elder abuse and neglect.  The hearing was led by Senator Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Chairman of the Special Committee on Aging.  Senator Kohl used the hearing to introduce two new important pieces of legislation aimed at improving the lives of the elderly.  Other members of the Committee on Aging present at the hearing included Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon.

The centerpiece of the hearing was the dramatic testimony of esteemed actor Mickey Rooney. Rooney was a compelling witness, giving an emotional account of his own experience as a victim of financial elder abuse by his stepson.  Rooney’s courage in speaking out at this hearing brought crucial public awareness to the issue of elder abuse.

The hearing coincided with the release of a new report from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) that surveyed the effectiveness of Adult Protective Services (APS) Program Administrators across the nation. Kay Brown, Director of Education, Workforce, and Income Security at the GAO, summarized highlights of the report in her testimony.  According to the report, the full extent of elder abuse in the United States has been widely underestimated.  Additionally, Adult Protective Service programs across the country are experiencing an increase in caseloads, and the complexities of the cases are also growing.  The report found that many APS programs have struggled to keep pace with the change in caseload; this is mainly due to a decrease in funding, as well as a lack of decisive federal leadership on the issue of elder abuse.

Kathleen Quinn, Executive Director of the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA) testified about the realities and challenges faced by APS workers and strongly supported the GAO’s recommendation for creation of a national resource center.

Also relevant to this hearing was the recent release of The New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study, an ambitious and comprehensive study to quantify the extent of elder abuse within a single American state.  Dr. Mark Lachs, of Weill Medical College of Cornell University, who was an author of the report, testified at this hearing, noting the immense number of elder abuse cases that aren’t addressed in any form.  The report, appropriately titled “Under The Radar,” found that for every elder abuse victim who is treated, there are 23 to 24 victims who go completely undetected.

Other witnesses who testified at the hearing include Bonnie Brandl of Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life (NCALL), who shared a video clip of a senior who told of her own sexual and financial abuse by a grandson, and described the disconnected and insufficient safety net of resources to address the problems.  Marie-Therese Connolly, director at Life Long Justice (housed at Appleseed), shared a severe case of elder abuse in the form of neglect. Connolly, too, pointed out that the field is ill equipped to deal with the current cases of elder abuse, let alone the impending upsurge in the number of senior citizens in the United States.

The members of the Special Committee on Aging promised to attack these problems by introducing two new pieces of legislation.  The first piece, titled “The Elder Abuse Victims Act,” would create an office within the Department of Justice dedicated solely to combating elder abuse.  The second piece of legislation, titled “The End Abuse in Later Life Act of 2011,” is aimed at enhancing direct services for elderly victims of domestic abuse, as well as increasing resources for proper law enforcement training in dealing with elder abuse.  Additionally, the act would authorize more research on the issue, and it places emphasis on collaborative community responses to victims of elder abuse.

NCPEA welcomes the crucial national attention that this hearing has brought to the issue of elder abuse and neglect, and we look forward to working with our colleagues in this field to implement the suggestions presented at the hearing.

NCPEA is working alongside other organizations to ensure elder justice in America. Among others, the following organizations helped to promote this hearing:

 

Anyone may submit testimony for the record by emailing Matt_Burr@aging.senate.gov. Testimony is due by March 16th.