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Justice for older and vulnerable adults can’t wait

Last month, allegations of nursing-home residents’ abuse surfaced in two Minnesota communities. As a result of this news, some families and seniors have begun to question their trust in nursing-home care and expressed new fears of abuse.

Last month, allegations of nursing-home residents’ abuse surfaced in two Minnesota communities. As a result of this news, some families and seniors have begun to question their trust in nursing-home care and expressed new fears of abuse. The allegations as described in the complaints are appalling, yet they serve as a reminder about the responsibility we all must take in caring for our spouses, parents and grandparents.

As leaders of organizations that serve older and vulnerable adults, we are united and have combined our efforts in support of larger reform for the prevention of elder abuse. As a result, we have launched the Vulnerable Adult Justice Project. This is a collaboration between provider groups and consumer advocates that is truly unique in Minnesota. Members of the project steering group include the Minnesota Office of Ombudsman for Long-Term Care, AARP Minnesota, Aging Services of Minnesota, the Alzheimer’s Association of Minnesota and North Dakota, Care Providers of Minnesota, ElderCare Rights Alliance, the Elder Justice and Policy Center, William Mitchell College of Law and the Minnesota HomeCare Association.

While our individual organizations oftentimes have different perspectives, and may even occasionally disagree on public-policy issues, we have no disagreement when it comes to prevention of the abuse of older and vulnerable adults. We share a common goal of increasing awareness and preventing elder abuse.

About 400 care centers in Minnesota
Let’s be clear: Even one incident of elder abuse in any setting is one incident too many. But we also need to put the allegations in Albert Lea and Montevideo into a larger context. There are approximately 400 care centers in Minnesota, serving nearly 34,000 seniors each day. The vast majority of caregivers working in these settings, as well as in home and community-based settings, provide excellent care; they do so out of a sense of mission and passion, not money.

While there is much to be done with regard to this issue, we have identified some key priorities for the coming months:

First, it is essential that the Legislature pass the Vulnerable Adult Act reform bill.  For the past 15 months our organizations, in addition to many others, have worked through a vulnerable-adult stakeholder group to craft the reforms that are contained in this legislation. The recent allegations highlight the need for the Legislature to act and pass this bill.

This legislation will streamline the Vulnerable Adult Act reporting system, ensure that first responders have the tools to serve a growing and changing population, and help to better protect vulnerable adults from financial exploitation. In addition, as the Legislature considers its funding priorities in these times of fiscal crisis, it will be critically important to ensure that adequate resources are directed to law enforcement and state agencies that make sure incidents of abuse do not occur.

Caregiver training must be improved
Second, these allegations highlight the need to improve training provided to paid caregivers on dementia care and on prevention and reporting procedures. In concert with this priority, we will continue to work with providers as they strive to effectively report any suspected incidents of abuse.

Third, we will reach out to families and friends of seniors, clergy, law enforcement, prosecutors and other key community members to raise awareness of the signs of elder abuse and how it should be reported and investigated.

Compassion requires us to protect the aging and vulnerable in our society. While the Vulnerable Adult Justice Project has a diverse membership, we share one common goal: to protect those who cannot protect themselves. We urge others to join us in our campaign to end elder abuse at all levels and settings.

Mark Wandersee, executive director, ElderCare Rights Alliance and member of the Vulnerable Adult Justice Project.