Senate should OK House bill to curb those who prey on elderly
Stories of senior mistreatment, as vividly reported in The Dispatch’s March 15-16 “Elder Abuse” series, are stomach-churning. People have been scammed of their life’s savings after years of living frugally. Others have been horribly neglected.
But Ohio’s current law is outdated and insufficient. House Bill 24 is a strong effort to address this growing problem.
The bill updates the state’s legal definitions of elder abuse to include financial harm, neglect and exploitation. This isn’t just a matter of compassion; scammers cost taxpayers, because elderly victims often must turn to public assistance to survive.
The bill would boost training for protective-services case workers. And it would have more people watching out for the elderly, by expanding the state’s current list of mandatory reporters. H.B. 24 would expand those required to report suspicions — such as clergy, attorneys and nursing-home employees — to include firefighters, accountants, notaries public, real-estate brokers, bank employees and pharmacists, among others.
“If it can be caught early, people can be protected from empty bank accounts,” Beth Kowalczyk, chief policy officer for the Ohio Association of Area Agencies on Aging, told legislators. “Bank employees and financial planners are frequently in a position to see what may be going on in an older adult’s home.”
Charlie Holderman, the retired supervisor of Adult Protective Services for Montgomery County, recalled working a case where a bank had caught a couple draining the account of a 94-year-old man whose worth totaled $5 million.
A bank had taken the initiative to alert Holderman’s agency that the husband of the couple, a prominent attorney, and his wife were writing themselves checks every day for $2,000 or more. Holderman’s agency went to court to stop the exploitation, but the man had lost $700,000.
“Although this was an extreme case,” Holderman told a House committee, “there are many instances of exploitation that are happening all over the state.”
How many is anyone’s guess. The National Center on Elder Abuse estimates that 1 in 10 elderly Americans is abused or neglected each year, often by trusted family members or caregivers.
Kathleen Quinn, executive director of the National Adult Protective Services Association, called elder abuse “rampant, largely invisible, expensive and lethal.” Immediate action is needed, she told The Dispatch.
One of H.B. 24’s key provisions would require the state to create and manage a registry to identify patterns of elder abuse.
“For the first time,” said Rep. Mike Dovilla, R-Berea, “Ohio will be able to accurately monitor and track the abuse of our senior citizens.”
Sharing this information with law enforcement would allow for the tracking of perpetrators and victims across county lines. And by getting a handle on the size of this problem, advocates for the elderly can build a better case to increase state funding.
Some Ohio counties currently are without a single full-time adult-protective-services worker.
The Senate has twice before failed to pass elder-abuse laws sent by the House. Just who is for draining granny of her life savings? Or leaving grandpa hungry?
No senior citizen should have to endure the indignity of theft and mistreatment. The Senate should pass this bill.
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Protect seniors from abuse