CT Golden Years: Sen. Blumenthal Targets Elder Abuse, But Should Proceed With Caution!

March 14, 2012
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Fortunately for the aging population in Connecticut and throughout the United States, both the media and politicians are becoming more aware that elder abuse is a serious issue and needs attention.

Abuse can take myriad forms including physical, mental, emotional, and financial and it seems that there is no end to the number of bullies in this world who will use their youth to exploit elderly people – generally for cash and other assets.

US Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), formerly Connecticut’s Atty. General, recently joined several other US Senators who are is pushing for enhanced elder abuse prevention and abuse responses on the federal level  through the Elder Protection and Abuse Prevention Act.

Blumenthal announced his support for more attention to elder abuse issues back in January, noting that “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.”

Ron Winter

Blumenthal said that exploitation of seniors by family members of other caregivers has reached epidemic proportions nationwide and must be stopped. He envisions creating a network of skilled professions assisting seniors with a special emphasis on spotting physical and financial exploitation. He says the financial impact on seniors nationwide is upward of $3 billion annually.

His proposal would update and strengthen the existing framework of senior services under the Older Americans Act, and require 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 would provide social workers with the most recent information and training, and allow victims or potential victims of abuse and financial exploitation to be prioritized for housing, nutrition, or legal services when they need them most

Blumenthal has some good ideas and there is no question that elder abuse is one of the most under-reported crimes in our country. But there has to be some balance too.

Currently, in Connecticut, representatives from the state Department of Social Services can show up at the door where an elderly person is living either with family or a caregiver, and believe they can enter without a warrant and investigate an alleged crime without any of the safeguards that normally apply to hardened criminals.

For instance, they claim they don’t have to reveal who made the allegations – knocking out the right to confront accusers; they say they don’t need a warrant to search someone’s home looking for evidence of a crime – knocking out the protections against unreasonable search and seizure and protection against self-incrimination.

They claim to be able to interview people – including the elderly who as a result of the DSS “investigation” could conceivably be placed in an institution for their “protection” – without the requirement that counsel be present. Now this might seem like a good idea for a person who is being abused by a guardian who also happens to be a lawyer, but since the elderly person’s future could well be determined by outsiders, I think having counsel present for any such interview or investigation should be required, not just desirable.

And, as I have written here so many times previously, unscrupulous people looking to make a quick buck have no qualms about lodging false claims of elder abuse in an effort to force an elderly person out of one home and into another – where the real culprits may be waiting.

Deterring elder abuse is not only a desirable goal it is a necessary goal – just like stopping the illicit drug trade. But vice police can only rarely engage in warrantless searches or arrests, and even then there has to be a demonstrable legal reason, and the same protections not only should apply for people falsely accused of elder abuse – they do!

We should all work to discourage elder abuse, but not at the expense of the basic civil rights of innocent people.

Connecticut’s former Commission of the Department of Social Services testified before the Legislature’s Standing Committee on Aging last year that roughly three-quarters of the allegations of elder abuse investigated by his staff turn out to be groundless! That is an amazing figure, both from the standpoint of wasted effort by state employees, and from the standpoint of the number unsubstantiated allegations that are lodged against caregivers.

With that kind of track record it is obvious that the DSS, in Connecticut anyway, spends more time chasing shadows than being engaged in effective care for the elderly.

Blumenthal’s proposal, which is pending in Congress before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pension includes training for personnel engaged in preventing elder abuse. Maybe he can amend the proposal to include sensitivity training for government workers. Can’t hurt.

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One Response to CT Golden Years: Sen. Blumenthal Targets Elder Abuse, But Should Proceed With Caution!

  1. Robert N. Jetmore on March 16, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    They can start in Connecticut with the abuse of the elderly by the New London Probate Court. All the evidence it out there and has been ignored. It is time to investigate this coverup. http://www.thepetitionsite.com/442/justice-for-mary/

    The courts are guilty of covering this up and using time,harassment,and outright theft.

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