Thursday, December 18, 2008

Protecting Our Elders

by Kathleen Quinn The Chicago Tribune

If a child is abused or neglected, your readers are horrified, but not helpless. They know what to do: call DCFS and expect them to intervene to protect the child to the extent possible. If a younger woman is abused in an intimate relationship, they know where to refer her: to a battered women's shelter, where she can find safety for herself and her children, legal advocacy and support.

But what if it's your grandmother, or the developmentally disabled adult who lives down the street, who is being physically abused, mentally tortured, sexually assaulted, financially ripped off, and/or cruelly neglected almost to the point of death? Whom do they call then? Would they know?

They should call Adult Protective Services, which operates under state law in every state to respond to the abuse, neglect and exploitation of adults with disabilities and older persons. In Illinois, for example, suspected abused, neglected or exploited persons aged 60 and over, should be referred to the Illinois Department on Aging's Excellent Elder Abuse and Neglect Program.

People in many other states are not as fortunate in having a well trained and decently funded APS program. Unlike battered women's shelters and child protective services, which receive over hundreds of millions to billions in federal support every year, adult protective services programs receive not one dollar of directly appropriated federal support. This even though older persons, one in 20 of whom will be abused, neglected or exploited, are the country's fastest growing population group, and despite the evidence that older abuse victims die at three times the rate of their non-abused cohorts. Moreover, seniors whose carefully husbanded life savings are stolen out from under them often must then turn to publicly funded programs such as Medicaid, costing taxpayers many millions in expenditures.

Congress has held hearings for 30 years on the tragedy of elder abuse, but it has yet to enact a single comprehensive law addressing it or the abuse of adults with disabilities. APS programs throughout the country, already under funded and in many areas under trained, are facing state budget reductions that will mean thousands of suffering older veterans, developmentally disabled adults, and grandmothers suffering from dementia will be left to suffer at the hands of their "caregivers," family members, and new "best friends" because there will be no one to respond to the reports of their abuse.

The incoming Obama administration has many huge and critical issues to contend with, yet this one, which has languished for decades because of inertia and indifference, could be readily addressed. Representative Rahm Emanuel, to his great credit, was an ardent advocate for passage of the Elder Justice Act, which would provide the first ever modest funding for struggling state APS programs throughout the country. If the White House asks the new Congress to enact the long overdue Elder Justice Act as one of its first orders of business in 2009, it would signal caring "change we can believe in," change that will save thousands of lives of "our greatest generation," and will allow many tens of thousands of others to live safely and with dignity, instead of in degradation, suffering and fear.

No comments: