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Elder Justice Act needs to be strengthened

The Elder Justice Act was passed in March 2010 and faces its 10th anniversary. It was intended to prevent elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation. But this law was underfunded and inadequately enforced and needs more attention.

This law received less than 10% of its authorized funding, especially with the financing that was to be dedicated for Adult Protective Services. The establishment of forensic centers to help detect elder abuse is one of the major parts of the law that never received any funding.

Policy makers and their staffs have not fully acknowledged that elder abuse and neglect is a problem. Even though the Government Accountability Office said that the recorded number of nursing home abuse instances doubled from 2013 to 2017, there has not been much other reliable data revealing the extent of this problem. Advocates of other domestic violence have been effective in obtaining federal attention. But they have not been as successful as pursuing elder justice.

There has also been inadequate enforcement of other elder abuse prevention laws, especially for victims of nursing home abuse. One witness testified earlier this year before the Senate Finance Committee about the death of her mother from dehydration because of nursing home neglect. This facility, however, received the federal government's highest five-star rating.

There are two potential federal remedies. First, passage of a two-year budget agreement may provide financial increases for elder justice programs. The bill passed the House and it is expected to receive Senate approval in September.

Next, the Elder Justice Reform Act is also expected to be introduced in September. This measure should provide more funding for Adult Protective Services and the Long-Term Ombudsman Program. If approved, it would also strengthen employee criminal background checks at long-term care facilities.

Families of nursing home residents may not be able to rely on federal and state laws to assure that their relatives are protected from nursing home abuse. An attorney can help families seek adequate care and pursue compensation when facilities are abusing or neglecting residents.

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