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How can the Elder Justice Act help Floridians?

Most of our readers have seen stories in the news about elder abuse. Sometimes, it occurs in nursing homes and other group facilities. Cases of reported abuse in both long-term care and daycare facilities have increased substantially in recent years. Even more tragically, perhaps, the abuse is at the hands of family members or others caring for a person at home.

Even when the abuse is financial or emotional rather than physical, it can take a physical toll. Research has shown that victims of elder abuse or neglect, including financial exploitation, are three times more likely to die prematurely than those who are not victims.

Many people may be unaware of something called the Elder Justice Act. It was signed into law in 2010 by President Obama as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The law provides the federal government with resources to "prevent, detect, treat, understand, intervene in and, where appropriate, prosecute elder abuse, neglect and exploitation." These resources, which are managed by the Department of Health and Human Services, are targeted at developing programs that will help prevent elder abuse. The U.S. Department of Justice was also tasked, as part of the law, with devoting resources toward fighting elder abuse.

The Elder Justice Act includes a number of requirements. Among them is the creation of a nationwide database that allows care facilities to do employee background checks. It also provides money to states and localities for things like surveys of care facilities as well as long-term-care ombudsmen programs.

The DOJ has a significant role in implementing many elements of the law. It is tasked with reviewing state laws regarding elder abuse, exploitation and neglect. It is also responsible for providing grants to develop programs for the training and support of first responders, police officers, victims' advocates, judges and prosecutors. Under the law, alleged cases of elder abuse in long-term-care facilities must be reported to law enforcement immediately.

As our population ages, this increased emphasis on recognizing and acting on cases of elder abuse is essential. Individuals and facilities involved the abuse or death of an elderly person can and should be held criminally responsible. Florida victims and family members can also hold them civilly liable for the neglect, abuse or wrongful death of someone in their care.

Source: USC Davis School of Gerontology, "What Is the Elder Justice Act?" Jan. 04, 2015

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