Sunday, June 6, 2021

Guest column: Preventing elder abuse through information sharing

By Brian Maienschein

California’s population of individuals over 60 is projected to grow faster than any other age group. By 2030, one-quarter of California’s population will be an older adult, with approximately 10.8 million reaching this age marker. Given this statistic, the recent rise in elder abuse cases is particularly alarming.

An increased prevalence of elder abuse, including financial exploitation; emotional, physical and sexual abuse; as well as neglect are just a few types of abuse older and dependent adults have increasingly endured. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Population Projections, the number of Americans aged 65 or older may be reluctant to report abuse themselves due to fear of retaliation, lack of physical and/or cognitive ability to report, or because they do not wish to get their abuser in trouble.

(Courtesy photo)
In the midst of the rise in elder abuse cases, an increase in the circumstances involving substandard Independent Living Facilities (ILFs) has also been uncovered. ILFs are unlicensed facilities that provide housing to multiple individuals in one residence. Unfortunately, some of these facilities provide extremely substandard care, which oftentimes legally constitutes as elder abuse.

The cost of licensed facilities have risen along with the demand for the level of care they provide, and many vulnerable low-income older adults are forced to rely on ILFs to meet their needs. For licensed facilities, local Adult Protective Services agencies can easily share information with a licensing agency regarding abusive reports. However, since ILFs are unlicensed, it is often local code compliance departments, not licensing agencies, who shut down substandard facilities with violations.

I am taking action to combat elder abuse and substandard care in Independent Living Facilities throughout San Diego County and across California. My bill, AB 636, will allow Adult Protective Services to share information with code enforcement agencies and their attorneys for the sole purpose of highlighting and investigating substandard care in ILFs. AB 636 will also clarify the list of law enforcement agencies to allow a federal law enforcement agency, charged with the investigation of elder or dependent abuse, access to information in cases where they have jurisdiction.

In recent years, the San Diego County’s Health and Human Services Agency, Adult Protective Services has worked to investigate and protect older and dependent adults who are residents of unlicensed facilities that are providing substandard care. However, due to current law, Adult Protective Services has had the ability to assist in these efforts without a court order. Adult Protective Services has investigated numerous situations where elder and dependent adults were residents in ILFs providing extreme substandard care in recent years.

Rooms with multiple bunkbeds and bedsheets hanging from ceilings in rooms creating makeshift walls are just a few examples of ILFs packing rooms full to fit as many residents as possible. The county found several other disturbing conditions throughout their investigations. In one case, a facility had faulty wiring problems, creating hazards such as hot electrical wires running through shower water, which shocked anyone who took a shower. In another case, a facility had gates locked from the outside, preventing residents from being able to leave if there was a fire or other emergency, while also preventing first responders from gaining access quickly.

Current law states that Adult Protective Services is only permitted to share investigative information with local law enforcement agencies, including local police, sheriff deputies and probation officers. The lack of information sharing with code enforcement agencies puts a direct halt on proper investigations into ILFs, which lets the substandard level of care some of them provide slip through the cracks.

California cannot continue to allow the operation of Independent Living Facilities providing substandard care. The conditions so many older adults are enduring in these facilities is appalling. Across the United States, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies coordinate on cases that cross state lines and prey on senior citizens. California needs to modernize current law in order to do all we can to protect older adults, and I am confident that my legislation will help us accomplish this.

Maienschein represents the 77th District in the California Assembly. The district includes Poway, Rancho Bernardo and 4S Ranch. 
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