May 15, 2009

Commentary:

Take Action to Prevent Elder Abuse

By Assemblymember Marty Block

Elder abuse is often a “silent” crime that can produce victims too embarrassed to acknowledge they were harmed. This abuse can take many forms—financial abuse through insurance fraud, scams that cheat the elderly out of their pensions, severe neglect or outright violence from family members or caregivers. Preventing elder abuse is the duty of every Californian, and we all must do our part to ensure that loved ones are free to live out their golden years without the fear of financial, psychological or physical harm.

Stopping elder abuse is one of the most important issues of our time. This is why I authored Assembly Bill AB 989, which is designed to crack down on perpetrators of insurance fraud who victimize the elderly. AB 989 would provide additional protective measures for the elderly community by allowing any senior harmed as a result of insurance fraud to file a civil action for damages.

In most cases our elder loved ones are embraced and cared for, basking in the twilight of grateful children and grandchildren. However that scenario isn’t always the case. In San Diego the elderly population is among the fastest growing and most vulnerable to abuse.

A 2006 study by the National Center on Elder Abuse found that in 90 percent of elder abuse cases, the perpetrator is a family member, with the largest group of offenders being adult children of the victim.

My Democratic colleagues in the Legislature also realize that preventing elder abuse is a top priority. Assembly Bill (AB) 768 by Assemblymember Norma Torres expands the definitions of crimes that can be called elder abuse.

In 2007, State Senator Joe Simitian and then-Assemblymember Lois Wolk introduced legislation that became law to require those working in financial institutions to report any suspicious activity in the accounts of their senior customers. Legislation by Assemblymember Dave Jones became law three years ago reforming regulations and licensing of the state’s conservatorship and guardianship system after reports of elder abuse by conservators throughout the state were reported.

California also has a mandatory reporting law that requires certain persons to report to the responsible authorities when they have reason to suspect abuse, neglect or exploitation of an elderly adult.

On a national level, efforts have ramped up to develop the most comprehensive federal legislation to address elder abuse and crimes against the elderly. If passed, this law would create the Offices of Elder Justice within the U.S. Department of Justice and Health and Human Services to coordinate disparate federal, state and local elder abuse prevention and efforts to detect, treat, prosecute and prevent elder abuse, neglect and exploitation of seniors.

May is designated as Elder Abuse Prevention Month, a time to renew efforts to identify and serve those citizens whose later years are a time of victimization, sadness and pain. If you witness elder abuse please call 911. To report suspected instances of elder abuse in San Diego please call San Diego County Aging & Independence Services at (800) 510-2020 or the state toll-free hotline at 1-888-436-3600. Please join with me in doing everything possible to prevent this tragedy from occurring, and helping victims recover from the damaging effects of this crime.

As Californians, we must work together to protect our elders. They stormed the beaches at Normandy, raised productive members of society, and shaped this country in so many positive ways. They deserve nothing but the best treatment from their government and fellow Californians.

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