As Connecticut’s 2011 Legislative session ended last week both the state House and Senate signed off on an amended “Act Concerning Investigations by Protective Services for the Elderly!”
No kidding. I am really happy to see this bill passed, I think it is reasonably close to the version I helped work on back over the Christmas holidays, and it will certainly go a long way toward protecting elderly people from scurrilous emotional and mental abuse.
The law – dubbed Ella’s Law by its original sponsor, State Sen. Edith Prague – grew out of repeated false complaints to the Connecticut Department of Social Services by members of my mother’s family after she won a court case against them in March 2009. After going through a grueling day of trial in which several members of her family testified that she was incompetent and incapacitated, and one, my sister, maneuvered to have all of Mom’s assets placed in her control, Mom took the stand in her own defense and eviscerated her attackers.
A judge in Albany, N.Y. Supreme Court ruled that Mom had shown herself to be competent, aware and in control of much of her life and dismissed the lawsuit. Two months later she won a favorable judgment when the same group tried to stick her with a massive legal bill.
Having lost two in a row some of Mom’s children and grandchildren – all from out of state – then began a rotating series of complaints to the DSS alleging that she was being abused in Connecticut. The “evidence” on which they based these allegations was the fact that Mom hadn’t forgiven them for trying to force her into an Alzheimer’s home and thus was refusing to communicate with them.
When the first state investigator showed up to determine the validity of the allegations Mom told her that she wasn’t calling members of her family because she didn’t want to be screamed at over the phone and was harboring ill will toward those who had unjustly tried to force her into confinement.
Rather than reaching out and trying to make amends for their actions, Mom’s harassers began swamping the DSS with similar complaints, calling repeatedly, rotating the calls among them, each time alleging they had “new information” which required the DSS to open new investigations even though they had already found the previous complaints to be false.
In addition to the sheer nuisance effect of these continuing complaints they had a medical impact on Mom too, causing repeated and escalating incidents of stress induced delirium, an all too common condition for the elderly that ultimately can prove to be fatal. The repeated complaints resulted in Sen. Prague’s submission of a new law making it a crime to falsely, and maliciously, make a claim of elder abuse or to conspire to do so.
But remarkably, the law was opposed by then DSS Commissioner Michael Starkowski who testified before the Legislature’s Standing Committee on Aging last February that it would have a negative impact on medical personnel such as visiting nurses who are mandated by law to report suspected elder abuse. He apparently didn’t read the word “malicious” and in the end the bill was taken up by the Committee on Human Services.
It was debated, as it should be, it was amended to insure that everyone’s concerns were addressed and then it was passed.
I received a phone call from Sen. Prague informing me that the bill had passed and I told Mom the following morning at breakfast. She was overjoyed, and appeared greatly relieved.
So now all that remains to be done for this essential piece of legislation to become law is for Gov. Dannel Malloy to take five minutes or so out of his schedule, assemble his staff and the bill’s sponsors and add his signature to it.
So … Governor. How’s your schedule? Got a few minutes? I have a pen.
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