The national tragedy of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation has taken on greater urgency and relevance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The tradition started 16 years ago, and its significance has continued to grow. As chair of the House Elder Justice Caucus and the national coordinator of the bipartisan Elder Justice Coalition, we are grateful that President BidenJoe BidenMilitary must better understand sexual assaults to combat them The Hill’s Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — Tasmanian devil wipes out penguin population On The Money: Democrats make full-court press on expanded child tax credit | White House confident Congress will raise debt ceiling MORE has issued a proclamation recognizing this important occasion. In the proclamation, he calls on all Americans to “work for elder justice by building inclusive communities that welcome people of all ages and abilities; by learning the warning signs of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation; and by challenging age-related biases.”
There is also much more we must do policy-wise to address elder justice in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic. The number of COVID-19 infections and deaths in nursing homes and other long term care facilities is staggering. More than 184,000 nursing home residents in the U.S. have died from COVID-19 — representing more than 10 percent of facility residents overall and 31 percent of all U.S. COVID-19 deaths. Failure to have adequate staffing, infection control, and personal protective equipment (PPE) resulted in this most egregious form of elder abuse.
At the same time, there has been a proliferation of scams directed at vulnerable older adults. One of the most scurrilous is the vaccine-related scam that conveys false information about vaccines and heightens anxiety and uncertainty among older adults.
Another recent issue of elder abuse is the well-documented increase in hate crimes directed against Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI), including and especially against AAPI older adults.
Further, there has been an extraordinary rise in the number of older adults who have been isolated because of the pandemic, which is expected to show a significant increase in the number of cases of self-neglect once regular reporting resumes.
In recent months Congress passed two important pandemic emergency bills: The Consolidated Appropriations Act and the American Rescue Plan Act. Together these bills provided a total of $376 million for elder justice activities. The overwhelming majority of this new funding will be directed to adult protective services (APS), which respond to abuse and operate in all states. Congress also provided funds to long-term care ombudsmen, who assist older adults in long term-care facilities and prevent elder abuse. Their importance was recognized early in the pandemic when ombudsmen were initially denied access to nursing facility residents, leaving residents without vital protections.
We were pleased by how quickly the Administration for Community Living, a division in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, disbursed these funds to APS and ombudsman programs nationwide. These funds will help address pandemic-related elder abuse.
We are also hopeful that Congress can achieve a bipartisan reauthorization of the landmark Elder Justice Act before World Elder Abuse Awareness Day next year. This law, originally passed as part of the Affordable Care Act, has represented the most significant federal commitment to date in the fight against elder abuse.
The Elder Justice Act has already made a positive difference in several ways, particularly through the critical work of the Elder Justice Coordinating Council. The Council, which has spanned the Obama and Trump administrations, today consists of 14 different federal agencies with responsibility for preventing elder abuse, neglect and exploitation. The Council coordinates existing agency resources to achieve a more comprehensive federal response. Its impact has especially been felt in the apprehension and prosecution of scammers operating both in the U.S. and abroad. We hope to see the Council continue its important work.
The founder of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, Elizabeth Podnieks, wrote, “In the past, people have been more prone to thinking locally and not globally believing that we can close borders and build walls. But when you look at coronavirus it is clear that borders are artificial. This is now our time to show resourcefulness… we all long to belong — so bring people and communities together.”
It is in our power to make this a reality. In Congress and as National Coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition, we will push for continued dedicated funding for APS and long-term care ombudsmen. We need to commit sufficient resources to APS in particular because most elder abuse, neglect and exploitation occurs in home and community-based settings — and almost 98 percent of older adults live in community-based settings.
Elder justice can only be achieved when elder abuse is prevented. By working together, nationally and worldwide, we can end the tragedy of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.
Suzanne BonamiciSuzanne Marie BonamiciEnd the practice of hitting children in public schools How we can end the tragedy of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation Shakespeare gets a congressional hearing in this year’s ‘Will on the Hill’ MORE represents Oregon’s 1st District and is chair of the House Elder Justice Caucus. Bob Blancato is the national coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition.