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News Jan 30, 2012 - 12:04 PM

Blumenthal: Fight contunes to end elder abuse with new proposal

By Senator Blumenthal's office

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Hartford, CT - Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) joined seniors and social service professionals in Hartford today to announce his proposal to implement a comprehensive network of elder abuse prevention and response measures.

"Growing numbers of seniors are abused or exploited by family or caregivers - an epidemic of wrongdoing that must be stopped,” said Blumenthal. “Rigorous screening and reporting to detect and deter abuse, physical or financial, is a powerful remedy that helps seniors who may be unaware of it, or too fearful or embarrassed to report it themselves. This measure would require systematic screening and reporting, with tough national standards, to prevent this betrayal of trust and prosecute wrongdoers. A network of professionals - skilled at seeing the physical or financial signs - should be empowered to spot and stop this scourge wherever seniors seek services. There is no excuse for one in ten seniors continuing to suffer the physical injury, emotional anguish and anxiety, and financial hardship, costing upwards of $3 billion every year.”

Blumenthal was also joined by 91-year-old Connecticut resident Lou Bogash, Jr., a victim of financial exploitation at the hands of a family member. A close family member had convinced Lou to open a joint bank account; the family member transferred his money out of the account and locked him out of a house that he helped purchase for them to live in together, leaving Lou homeless.

“I can see now that they had this planned all along. I feel so stupid, but you don’t think certain ways when it’s family,” said Bogash. “You better believe that if they were strangers, this wouldn’t have happened."

While child abuse and domestic violence screenings are well-integrated into the nation’s health and community services network, elder abuse screening requirements are noticeably absent in federally-supported senior services. The Elder Protection and Abuse Prevention Act, which Blumenthal will introduce this week, seeks to fill that void by creating a strong network of elder abuse screening and support programs to identify instances of elder abuse and stop them before they happen. In Connecticut, strong mandatory reporting laws and penalties exist for crimes against seniors, but they are ineffective without the mandatory screening and reporting standards the bill would create.

The bill updates and strengthens the existing framework of highly-utilized senior services under the Older Americans Act, and requires that states incorporate a plan to identify and respond to cases of elder abuse as a condition of receiving federal money to run these programs. It provides social workers with the most recent information and training, and allows victims or potential victims of abuse and financial exploitation to be prioritized for housing, nutrition, or legal services when they need them most.

Under the Elder Protection and Abuse Prevention Act, if Mr. Bogash had attended an education session for seniors, received a meal from a volunteer, or even participated in a health and wellness screening at his local senior center, he would have been given information on the signs and risks of financial exploitation. If a social worker had suspected signs of abuse at any of these points, it would be mandatory for that worker to follow a coordinated statewide reporting protocol to address the problem expediently and report the potential abuse to authorities.

In 2009, there were 6 million instances of elder abuse reported nationwide, and over 73,000 reported in Connecticut. It is estimated that seniors lose a minimum of $2.9 billion each year to financial abuse and exploitation. Blumenthal, a member of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, chaired a field hearing in August 2011 in Hartford that brought the U.S. Senate to Connecticut to discuss ways in which the federal government can partner with state and local efforts to end elder abuse. The proposal Blumenthal is announcing is due in a large part to the product of testimony and findings from that field hearing.

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