ICFA Joins Elder Justice Coalition in Support of Congressional Legislation
by Robert M. Fells, Esq., general counsel
On behalf of the association, the ICFA Government and Legal Affairs Committee has accepted an invitation from the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging staff to join the Elder Justice Coalition in support of Senate Bill 333, the Elder Justice Act. The bill, introduced in February by Sens. John Breaux (D-LA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), seeks to develop programs to combat the growing problem of neglect, abuse and exploitation of senior citizens. S. 333 has more than 23 sponsors in the Senate, and a companion bill is expected to be introduced in the House of Representatives in the near future. In joining the Elder Justice Coalition, the ICFA made a $2,500 contribution through its Government and Legal Fund to support efforts to enact the bill.
Among the bill's proposals is a program of grants targeting "coroners and funeral home operators," among others, for training to improve the detection and reporting of suspected abuse. The coalition said that although the elderly population is growing and an estimated 500,000 to 5 million older Americans are abused every year, the funding for related programs is disproportionately low. Federal funding for programs addressing elder abuse totals approximately $153.5 million annually, compared with $520 million on programs combating violence against women and $6.7 billion on child abuse prevention efforts. "Perhaps the greatest barrier to addressing elder abuse is the relatively low profile of the issue among the general public and the health-care community. While both child abuse and domestic violence are now discussed regularly in the media, elder abuse has trailed in both public discussion and overall awareness."
S. 333 would create the Offices of Elder Justice at the Department of Health and Human Services and the Justice Department to provide programs, grants and policy and technical assistance to elder justice issues. In addition, the bill would establish a public-private coordinating council to coordinate the activities of all relevant federal agencies, states, communities and private and not-for-profit entities, plus a consistent funding stream and national coordination for Adult Protective Services. The program would also review model state laws and practices relating to elder justice.
The Senate Special Committee on Aging held a series of hearings in recent years focusing on "abuse in institutional settings such as nursing homes and related issues such as background checks for caregivers, equity predators, fraud and abuse in digital commerce, consumer fraud in the funeral and dietary supplement industries, living trust scams that fleece the elderly of their assets and estates, physical and sexual abuse in nursing homes, and preventing elder abuse, neglect and exploitation in general." ICFA members will recall the Senate Aging Committee's public hearings held April 10-11, 2000, and broadcast over C-SPAN to explore funeral industry sales practices.
According to the coalition, "There are many promising practices around the country working to eliminate elder abuse, neglect and exploitation. Many of these involve multi-disciplinary teams made up of professionals from the fields of social work, health care, law enforcement, financial services and others. ... The Louisiana group includes assistant U.S. attorneys, the state Medicaid Fraud Control Units, prosecutors, an FBI agent, the state inspector general, the state survey agency, the state long-term care ombudsman, the state Department of Labor and the state Department of Health and Hospitals."
The Elder Justice Coalition currently has 154 members, including AARP, Americans for Better Care of the Dying, Eldercare America, Gray Panthers, Heart and Hand Inc., the National Council on Aging and the Center for Social Gerontology Inc. Though funding estimates for S. 333 have been in the $65 million range, coalition staff believe the program could operate successfully with less funding.