March 3, 2011

USA: Government Report Finds Elder Abuse on the Rise

NEW YORK, NY / The New York Times / Health / March 3, 2011

The New Old Age
Caring & Coping


A rising number of elder abuse cases threatens to overwhelm inadequately staffed adult protective service agencies in many states, according to a report released on Wednesday by the federal Government Accountability Office.

The actor Mickey Rooney, 90, testified on Wednesday before the Senate Special Committee on Aging.

At a hearing of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, Kay Brown, director of education, work force and income security at the accountability office, testified that state agencies also were seeing increasingly complex cases involving multiple types of abuse. Yet funding for state-level adult protective services agencies — which Kathleen Quinn, executive director of the National Adult Protective Services Association, described as the “boots on the ground in the fight against elder abuse” — is not keeping pace.

In the report’s survey, 25 of the 39 responding states reported that total funding for adult protective services over the past five years decreased or remained the same. As a result, staffing and training have suffered at state agencies handling elder abuse cases, she said.

“If you want to work at Starbucks, you have to go through 40 hours of training before you make your first latte,” Ms. Quinn told members of the Senate Special Committee on Aging. “But we will send an A.P.S. person out in some jurisdictions — because they have no money — right out of college, and hope they learn on the job.”

Ms. Quinn and other witnesses called for more federal leadership and coordinated efforts to help stem elder abuse.

Also at the hearing, the actor Mickey Rooney testified that he had experienced elder abuse. Mr. Rooney, 90, said that money had been stolen from him and that he had not been allowed to make important decisions. When he complained, he was told that he didn’t know what he was talking about.

“I felt trapped, scared, used and frustrated,” Mr. Rooney said. Yet he was also afraid to tell anyone, he added.

Federal agencies need a more centralized system for tracking elder abuse, said Dr. Mark Lachs, co-chief of geriatric medicine at Cornell University. “People move from system to system, from housing to law enforcement to any number of venues, and no one has ownership of the entire case,” said Dr. Lachs. “I think we need some ├╝ber knowledge of how these individuals are traversing the system.”

Indeed, in many states it’s not even clear what constitutes elder abuse. Citing officials at the federal Administration on Aging, the Government Accountability Office report said establishing a nationwide data collection system was difficult because there is no common state-level definition of elder abuse.

The report’s recommendations call for the secretary of health and human services to develop a national resource center for elder abuse information for protective services agencies in the states. Further, the report said a federal body should help determine what state-level elder abuse data would be useful for all states and the federal government to collect.

The chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, Senator Herb Kohl, Democrat of Wisconsin, reintroduced the Elder Abuse Victims Act at Wednesday’s hearing. The bill would establish an office of elder justice within the federal Justice Department charged with protecting the elderly by strengthening law enforcement responses to abuse.

See also today’s story, “When Abuse of Older Patients Is Financial.”

© 2011 The New York Times Company