More than 100 nursing students, nurses, senior advocates and service providers, social workers and other professionals recently attended an educational conference on elder abuse in Raleigh County. Over the course of the day, attendees learned about different signs of abuse, the different factors that contribute to the problem, community responsibilities, and different state and federal laws associated with nursing home abuse and elder abuse.
In his keynote address to the audience, Judge John Hutchinson (10th Judicial Circuit, Raleigh County) talked about a several different issues, including the shamefully low priority elder abuse cases tend to have in our justice system, about why the cases are difficult to prosecute, and about the general lack of resources available to tackle the problem.
One problem that makes it difficult to prosecute cases, Hutchinson said, is that victims are often "ashamed or afraid they may lose their independence and be placed in a home." This results in many cases of elder abuse never being reported at all and many others in which victims are reluctant to testify on their own behalf. Hutchins added that parts of the problem also stem from prosecutors not being very familiar with the issue and from the unglamorous nature of elder abuse crimes in general.
Together, these factors make criminal prosecutions for elder abuse crimes a fairly rare occurrence.
On the topic of elder financial abuse, the fastest-growing problem affecting seniors today, Hutchinson talked about a positive development -- the addition of banks and financial institutions to the mandatory reporter list for suspected elder abuse -- but also noted that the benefits of mandatory reporting are often diminished or completely erased by a lack of resources.
One audience member told Hutchinson that Raleigh County receives between 130 and 150 referrals for elder abuse and nursing home abuse investigations a month while employing only two investigators in Adult Protective Services. Another told the judge about that one Raleigh County Adult Protective Service staff member who was currently guardian for 80 suspected victims of elder abuse.
Source: West Virginia Public Broadcasting, "Judge cites lack of resources for elder abuse cases," Suzanne Higgins, Sept. 17, 2012