Elder abuse is one of the fastest growing problems across the state and the county, but also one of the least reported. However, a change in Ohio state law that is now in effect could help change that. On Sept. 29th, the list of people, professions and entities that are now required by state law to report the suspected abuse, neglect or exploitation of senior citizens has been greatly expanded.
Now, the people who have one of more than 30 professions are required to report the abuse when they have cause to reasonably suspect it. A total of 14 professions were added to the list this year.
The list of mandatory reporters now includes: attorneys, physicians, osteopaths, podiatrists, chiropractors, dentists, RNs and LPNs, psychologists, social workers, professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, ambulance drivers, EMTs and paramedics, building and housing inspectors, peace officers, coroners, clergy, CPAs, pharmacists, dialysis technicians, home health agency employees, outpatient health facility employees, hospital employees, nursing home employees, residential care facility employees, health department employees, mental health agency employees, county humane society employees, firefighters, real estate brokers, notaries, employees of financial institutions, investment advisors, financial planners and senior service providers.
According to records from the Cuyahoga County Division of Senior and Adult Services, the agency took in more than 4,000 reports of suspected elder abuse in 2017. Nearly half of those reports were deemed to be valid.
Quite simply, the problem of elder abuse is very real and, oftentimes, under-reported. The leading allegation taken in by the agency is that a senior citizen has become a victim of self-neglect, according to county records.
“There’s not only the legal obligation of the law changing but there’s a moral obligation,” said Marlene Robinson-Statler, the interim administrator for CCDSAS. “We have to make sure that we not only take care of those that came before us and have maybe taken care of us, but also those who have been the anchors of our community. That’s very important.”
Robinson-Statler, who is also a caregiver to her parents, said studies have shown that only one out of every 10 cases of elder abuse, neglect or exploitation was actually reported to the proper authorities. With the expansion of the list of mandatory reporters, she is hopeful that trend changes.
“We are going to see an increase in work. So obviously if...an increase in calls happens, my staff will be prepared for that,” Robinson-Statler said. “We’ll be making sure they are being taken care of.”
Larry Vavro, the chief of Adult Protective Services for Cuyahoga County, said the change in state law is ultimately a good thing. Over the past year, he and other county leaders have been trying to educate the community on what is now legally required of them. It appears to be paying off, he said.
“We have lately been seeing more exploitation calls being called into us from financial institutions,” Vavro said. “I have a feeling that they are getting word that they are expected to make these calls to us. Somebody’s funds can be drained very fast and if we don’t catch it early enough – and even if we do find out later on – there might not be anything we can do to recoup those finances.”
The expanded mandatory reporting laws also apply to the legal definition. Under the old laws, a senior citizen could only be exploited by someone characterized as their ‘caregiver.’ However, that definition has been broadened to include a host of other people who have contact with the victim.
The change in state law also comes at a time when the population of senior citizens is expected to rise exponentially both across the nation and in Cuyahoga County. By 2030, nearly a third of Cuyahoga County’s population will be 60 years old and older.
“In the next 10 to 15 years, the number of people over age 60 is going to exceed the number of people under 18,” Robinson-Statler said. “The population is growing. It’s not just the baby boomers. The entire population is growing and they’re getting older. They’re living longer. We want to make sure we’re taking care of that population.”
If the change in state law creates an influx in reported abuse cases, the agency will re-allocate resources, Robinson-Statler said.
If you suspect a senior citizen is being abused, neglected or exploited, you can call the Cuyahoga County Division of Adult and Senior Services at 216-420-6700. You can also file a report online.