In our profession, we hear stories all the time like this one, told to me recently by a client of our firm:
My mother’s caregiver was only too happy to make trips to the local supermarket to pick up groceries anytime Mom was out of something. No milk? No problem. Running low on fruit? I’ll run right out and get some.
But even at 95, my mother was still sharp enough to ask for receipts, and when she kept getting just the part with the total, she mentioned it to me. I checked her bank account online, and sure enough, she had hundreds of dollars worth of charges at the supermarket over a very short period of time.
I called the store and asked them to run the card number through their computer. They asked me if my mother bought a lot of gift cards and I said no. But the caregiver had been buying them, using Mom’s credit card like an ATM card.
Our client notified the police and protective services, and the caregiver was arrested. This incident, as unpleasant as it was, is minor compared to some of the far more egregious things that can befall elders – persons 60 years of age or older – at the hands of unscrupulous individuals who prey on them.
Protecting Elders from Exploitation
Fortunately, we live in a state that takes elder abuse of any kind very seriously. In October 2015, a new bill was passed, strengthening protections for vulnerable elders.
Anyone who witnesses or suspects elder abuse can report it, but the bill expands the universe of “mandatory reporters.” It specifies reporting requirements as well as consequences for not reporting incidents or suspicion of abuse, neglect, exploitation or abandonment to the Department of Social Services.
The State of Connecticut defines each of these terms as follows:
- Abuse – willful infliction of physical pain, injury or mental anguish, or willful deprivation of caregiver services which are necessary to maintain physical and mental health
- Neglect – failure or inability of an elderly person to provide for himself or herself the services which are necessary to maintain physicial and mental health, or the failure to provide or arrange for provision of such necessary services by a caregiver.
- Exploitation – the act or process of taking advantage of an elderly person by another person or caregiver, whether for monetary, personal or other benefit, gain or profit.
- Abandonment – the desertion of willful forsaking of an elderly person by a caregiver, or the foregoing of duties or the withdrawal or neglect of duties and obligations owed an elderly person by a caregiver or other person.
- Caregiver – a person who has the responsibility for the care of an elderly person as a result of family relationship, or who has assumed the responsibility for the care of the elderly person voluntarily, by contract, or by order of a court of competent jurisdiction.
Who is required to report?
Mandatory reporters are any of the following professionals or community workers who may have contact with an elderly person (newly added categories in italics):
- Physician, surgeon, resident physician, intern or registered nurse
- Nursing home administrator, nurse’s aide, or orderly in a nursing home or residential care home
- Person paid for caring for a person in a nursing home or residential care home
- Staff person employed by a nursing home or residential care home
- Patients’ advocate
- Licensed practical nurse, medical examiner, dentist, optometrist, chiropractor, podiatrist, social worker, clergyman, police officer, pharmacist, psychologist, physical therapist
- Person paid for caring for an elderly person by any institution, organization, agency or facility, including without limitation, any employee of a:
- Community-based services provider
- Senior center
- Home care agency
- Homemaker and companion agency
- Adult day care center
- Village-model community
- Congregate housing facility
- Community-based services provider
- Person licensed or certified as an emergency medical services provider including members of a municipal fire department
- Financial agents – officers or employees of financial institutions who:
o Have direct contact with an elderly person
o Review or approve an elderly person’s documents, records or transactions
Consequences of failing to report
Mandatory reporters are required to report incidents they recognize or suspect to the Commissioner of Social Services within 72 hours. The penalty for failing to report is a fine of up to $1,500.
If the failure to report is intentional, the person is guilty of a class C misdemeanor for the first offense, and a class A misdemeanor for a subsequent offense.
What happens to the abuser?
The new bill specifies severe consequences for the perpetrators of elder abuse, especially those named as beneficiaries in a victim’s Will. For example, a person found guilty of elder abuse is treated as if he or she died before the deceased victim and cannot receive any part of the victim’s estate. Joint ownership of property is severed and property owned in “joint tenancy” may be converted to property owned solely by the deceased victim.
For those of us engaged in helping older adults enjoy the highest possible quality of life for as long as possible, it’s hard to imagine the dark side of humanity that preys on the most vulnerable among us. We applaud the State of Connecticut for recognizing the need to strengthen the laws protecting elder adults.
For further information, read the full text of Public Act 15-236.