In recent years, both said, state laws on elder abuse and neglect have expanded. In particular, more states are requiring mandatory reporting of incidents. In 2000, researchers found that seven states did not demand reporting of elder abuse and neglect cases, a figure that has now dropped to three states.
States have greatly expanded the categories of abuse prosecuted. In 2001, researchers found abandonment to be addressed in 10 state laws, a number which has grown to 13 states. In that same time period, 42 state laws included emotional abuse in its categories and this has extended to 44 states.
Still, by comparison, Jirik’s and Sanders’ research paints a grimmer picture: abuse definitions vary from state to state; only eight states have specific elder abuse laws, namely, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.
Few states, they said, protect against all seven categories of elder abuse as defined by the National Council on Elder Abuse (NCEA) under the U.S. Administration on Aging, and have specific laws on mandatory reporting and penalties for failure to report, specifically, California, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. Many types of abuse are not independently defined but described in general. While state laws share particular concepts, they all differ in the details and the methods in which they are carried out, making scientific comparison difficult, they said.
In fact, Jirik and Sanders reported, many of the professionals central to the study reported feeling unable to intervene on behalf of seniors in trouble, have had to grapple with the self-determination and mental competency levels of their victims, found difficulty understanding and applying the laws of their state, did not succeed in having the cases they report accepted for investigation and found it hard to partner with under-resourced and under-trained investigative agencies.
To embark on their study, both researchers examined elder laws in state university libraries or government websites, focusing on state laws germane to home-based community services (HBCS) instead of senior long-term care facilities. Jirik performed the coding for the laws and reviewed them with Sanders. Both discussed the outcomes with two other elder abuse researchers, sampled particular states and phoned their elder abuse program directors to confirm their findings.
Concentrating on 2011 and 2012 state laws, Jirik and Sanders made records of statute numbers and titles, the type of victims covered, elder abuse cases versus dependent adult abuse cases, definitions of elder abuse, comparisons to the categories defined by the NCEA, mandatory reporting requirements and penalties, investigative agencies, provisions of consent and professional training.
This mode of collection was based on two well-known attempts at elder abuse law analysis: the 2000 articles titled “Statute Definitions of Elder Abuse” by J. M. Daly and G. Jogerst and “Adult Protection Service Laws: A Comparison of State Statutes from Definition to Case Closure” by L. Roby and R. Sullivan.
NCEA defines the following seven terms of elder abuse and neglect as follows: physical abuse as “acts of violence, physical punishment, inappropriate use of drugs;” emotional or psychological abuse as “threats, humiliation, harassment and isolation;” financial of material exploitation as “misusing or stealing money or possessions;” sexual abuse as “unwanted touching, including all types of sexual assault or battery;” neglect as “failure or refusal to provide elder with necessities such as food or medicine;” self-neglect as “failure or refusal of an elder to provide himself or herself with necessities;” and abandonment as “desertion of an elder by person who has assumed responsibility for [an] elder.”
Aside from finding that only eight states had elder or dependent adult abuse laws, Jirik and Sanders found that 14 state laws protect both dependent adults and elders from abuse with California’s “Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act” being a prime example. Twenty-nine states have dependent adult abuse laws that include seniors under certain conditions such as New Jersey’s “Adult Protective Services Act” for victims aged 18 and older, mentally or physically disabled persons and victims of abuse, neglect or exploitation.
For mandatory reporting, both researchers found three states – Colorado, New York state and North Dakota – did not specify mandatory reporting. Six states – Delaware, Indiana, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Utah, and Wyoming – had a universal mandatory reporting requirement. Thirty-one states required a specific class of professionals to report incidents. The remaining 11 had a universal reporting requirement with a list of specific professionals.
For penalties for failure to report, Jirik and Sanders found that 42 states have penalties, which include classifying the negligence as a misdemeanor, applying a fine of a $500 maximum and imposing a six-month jail term. Six states – Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Ohio – did not specify a penalty for professionals who failed to report. Three states – Colorado, New York state and North Dakota – have neither a mandatory reporting law nor penalties.
This article was originally published March 10, 2014 on the website of PharmPsych.com, one of seven websites that comprise The Pharm Psych Network, a medical communications and education company.