Legislation attempts to fight elder abuse

On July 2, 2016, in News 2016, by Mark Norris

State Sen. Mark Norris knoxnews.com
July 1, 2016

They call it the “Silent Crisis.” Too often, crimes of elder abuse go unreported, leaving its helpless victims to suffer silently. And far too often it happens at the hands of those whom they trust the most.

It is difficult for most of us to even fathom how someone could hurt any elderly person, much less a relative who is in their care. While most caregivers and family members look after senior citizens with love and compassion, there are those who carry out unconscionable acts of violence. The abuse can take many other forms, including psychological cruelty, wanton neglect and financial exploitation. For seniors targeted with financial crimes, this can mean the loss of lifelong savings and pension benefits. Unable to return to the workplace, these elderly victims often go without food, medication or other necessities, or find themselves dependent on public assistance.

Tennessee is seeing a rise in the number of offenses committed against our older citizens. According to information compiled by the state of Tennessee, the number of simple assaults against older adults rose by almost 20 percent from 2009 to 2013. The number of reported cases of fraud against older individuals increased by 21 percent over the same time period. Even more alarming is that it has been projected that the number of unreported cases of elder abuse may be as high as one in 23.

Why don’t older adults report abuse? Sadly, it is due to shame, fear of losing independence, fear of being moved or because the caretaker abuser is a family member. The individual may also be too incapacitated to report or may be fearful of reprisals.

This is an issue that should not be hushed up. That is why our General Assembly passed several bills during the 2016 legislative session to protect senior citizens from both physical harm and financial exploitation. One such bill is legislation I sponsored creating Vulnerable Adult Protective Investigation Teams in each judicial district in Tennessee.

The purpose of this new law is to coordinate the investigation of suspected instances of abuse, neglect or exploitation of an adult. The information generated by the multi-disciplinary adult protective services team can then be reviewed to determine what further action can be taken to protect these vulnerable citizens. In addition, the budget, which became effective July 1, contains funds to support staff training on elder abuse through Tennessee’s District Attorneys General Conference.

Another important new law passed this year requires that a background check must be met before an employee may be hired by a facility as a caregiver. Applicants for a position that involves providing direct care must supply fingerprint samples, submit to a background check and provide past references. This law was passed at the recommendation of the General Assembly’s Elder Abuse Task Force.

To combat financial exploitation, a resolution was passed this year directing the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability to work with the Tennessee Bankers Association, the Tennessee Credit Union League and other appropriate organizations to develop a list of recommended changes that would assist financial institutions in protecting vulnerable adults from fraudulent and other questionable transactions. This measure was also a recommendation of the members of the Elder Abuse Task Force.

Tennessee’s seniors should be treated with respect and dignity to enable them to continue to serve as leaders, mentors, volunteers and active members of our state and our communities. Their well-being concerns all of us.

Report abuses to Tennessee Adult Protective Services at 1-888-277-8366. In an emergency, always call 911 first. It is time we end the silence.

State Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, is the Tennessee Senate majority leader.

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