It would be wonderful if all older adults were respected, appreciated, and honored for the daily gifts they bring us. We can learn from their wisdom, enjoy their company, and admire their accomplishments. Unfortunately, the opposite often occurs in our society, and these individuals are frequently the victims of exploitation, neglect, and outright abuse.
As such, the Elder Justice Act was signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010 as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It mandates federal resources to “prevent, detect, treat, understand, intervene and, where appropriate, prosecute elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.” Read on to find out what you need to know about this crucial and historic act.
The Elder Justice Act and the Department of Health and Human Services
The Elder Justice Act requires that the Department of Health and Human Services “oversee the development and management of federal resources for protecting our seniors from elder abuse.” Among other things, the Act requires:
- Establishment of the Elder Justice Coordinating Council
- Establishment of an advisory board on the abuse of older adults
- Establishment of abuse, neglect, and exploitation forensic centers for older adults
- Enhancement of long-term care
- Funding for state and local adult protective service offices
- Grants for long-term care ombudsmen programs and evaluation of these programs
- Grants to state agencies to survey older adult care facilities
The purpose of these mandates is to increase education, research, and guidance when creating programs designed to address the abuse of older adults.
The Elder Justice Act and Department of Justice (DOJ) requirements
Part of the reason that elder abuse is so rampant is because prosecuting abusers has been a longstanding challenge. As part of the Elder Justice Act, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is required to dedicate resources to the cause, and study and evaluate existing laws for areas of improvement. Specific responsibilities of the DOJ are to:
- Develop objectives, priorities, policies and long-term plans for older adult justice programs
- Conduct studies of state laws and practices relating to the abuse, neglect, and exploitation of older adults
- Award grants to develop training and support programs for law enforcement and other first responders, prosecutors, judges, court personnel and victim advocates
- Ensure the DOJ dedicates sufficient resources to investigate and prosecute cases relating to justice for older adults
Since the number of reported incidents of abuse in care facilities has drastically increased in the past decade, the Elder Justice Act also creates a nationwide database and program for employee background checks. In addition, the act requires immediate reporting of any abuse perpetrated against older adults to law enforcement.
The Elder Justice Act and financial exploitation
Financial abuse and exploitation of older adults is rampant, exploding, and in desperate need of a coordinated response. The Elder Justice Act is a good start, but needs to be funded at a level that will make a difference. Unfortunately, $4 million is not nearly enough to accomplish the goals set forth in the Act.
Seniors are frequent victims of numerous scams that seek to steal their investments, homes, money, and other assets. Thus, the Elder Justice Act is making grants available to state and community agencies – it helps them create and promote awareness programs with a focus on these scams, including those carried out online. Older adults and their loved ones are welcome to attend these programs in order to learn how to protect themselves and what to do if they or someone they know has been the victim of a scam.
If you’d like to learn more about EJA advocacy (including how to voice your support for additional funding), visit the website for the Elder Justice Coalition.
Together, we can stop the abuse of older adults and bring perpetrators to justice
Studies have shown that older adult victims of abuse and neglect are three times more likely to die prematurely. As such, the harm done to our aging population may seem like an overwhelming problem, but we can fight back. With the advent of the Elder Justice Act, new resources and professionals have joined the battle to protect older adults in America. If you suspect that a friend or loved one is a victim of abuse, call an Adult Protective Services hotline, 911, or your local police. Join the cause and help us start the journey toward celebrating our nation’s older adults!
If you are unsure how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging can help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.