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7/1/2019 Task force: Elder abuse is widespread; Closer monitoring and education can help
STATE HOUSE – Elder abuse and exploitation is prevalent, growing and vastly underreported, according to a Senate panel that has been studying the issue, and the state needs better education and monitoring efforts to prevent it.

The Special Task Force to Study Elderly Abuse and Financial Exploitation, led by Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne, has been working since December to study the prevalence and impact of elder abuse and financial exploitation in Rhode Island. Its final report, issued June 28, makes recommendations on policies and legislation to effectively address the issue impacting seniors and other vulnerable adults.

“The prevalence and projected growth of elder abuse and exploitation is deeply troubling, particularly in light of our findings that its full extent can’t be known because it is so rarely reported or investigated,” said Chairwoman Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence). “As the baby boomers become seniors and our elderly population grows, it’s critical that we do everything we can to protect older Rhode Islanders from this abuse. We are confident we can make significant improvements to prevent elder abuse and exploitation, and I’m grateful for the commitment of my colleagues in the Senate to this issue.”

The task force issued five findings, each with recommendations:

  • Elder abuse and financial exploitation is prevalent and on the rise.
The Rhode Island Division of Elderly Affairs reported 1,377 confirmed cases of elder abuse in 2017, which is 444 cases more than only five years prior. As the nation’s population of people age 65 and over is expected to double by 2060, the problem is expected to continue growing. Among the recommendations is that the state collaborate with existing community organizations and support outreach and education efforts that specifically focus on seniors and those who interact with them.
  • Elder abuse is underreported.
Only 1 in 23 cases of elder abuse is reported to adult protective services. The task force recommends strengthening outreach and education efforts for the public, health care workers and others who interact with seniors, and working to dispel stigmas so seniors will be better enabled to report abuse.
  • Seniors are particularly vulnerable to financial exploitation, and the problem is growing.
Health-related factors, life savings and technology that allows money to be transferred electronically are all contributing factors. The task force recommends better education. It suggests legislation similar to a Connecticut law that requires training for agencies that employ individuals to care for seniors. Another recommendation is to consider a law like one in Delaware to allow financial institutions to place holds on accounts when they identify suspicious transactions.
  • Rhode Island’s guardianship program needs closer monitoring
The committee recommends collecting municipal probate data to assess the guardianship program, as well as seeking federal grants to support education, monitoring and resources for guardians. It also recommended nationwide criminal background checks for guardians. Legislation enacting that requirement (2019-S 0845A), sponsored by Chairwoman Coyne, was approved by the General Assembly June 20.
  • Cohesive, collaborative education and resources are needed
The task force recommends supporting the Saint Elizabeth Haven for Elder Justice and its enhanced Training and Services to End Abuse in Later Life grant program, and strengthening services available through the POINT, the resource service at the Division of Elderly Affairs.

The task force also backed another bill (2019-S 0603A) sponsored by Chairwoman Coyne and passed by the General Assembly Thursday to expand a law requiring reporting of suspected abuse, exploitation, neglect or self-neglect of anyone over age 60.

Members of the task force include Senator Coyne; Senator Sandra Cano (D-Dist.8, Pawtucket); State Long Term Care Ombudsman Kathleen Heren; Special Assistant Attorney General Molly Kapstein Cote; Mary Ladd, chief of program development at the Rhode Island Division of Elderly Affairs; AARP- Rhode Island Associate State Director John DiTomasso; State Police Detective Kyle Shibley; Warwick attorney Mark Heffner; and Saint Elizabeth Haven for Elder Justice Director Jeanne Gattegno.

For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-1923