According to the U.S. Department of Justice, elder abuse is a serious and often underreported phenomenon. About 1 in every 10 seniors is abused each year and only about 1 in every 23 cases is actually reported to the appropriate agencies. One of the major problems in combating elder abuse is detection. Victims often do not report incidents due to their dependence on the perpetrator, feelings of fear, shame or guilt, diminished trust, financial hardship, or mental incapacity, among other reasons.
In response to growing concerns over elder abuse, Congress passed the Elder Justice Act (EJA) as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010. Read on to learn more about the purposes of the Act and how it protects seniors from abuse.
Purposes of the EJA
The EJA applies to seniors aged 60 or older and is the first piece of comprehensive national legislation to address elder abuse. One of its objectives is to coordinate responses to elder abuse across federal and state agencies and to support efforts to detect and prevent elder abuse. The EJA seeks to promote elder justice, which it defines as efforts to “prevent, detect, treat, intervene in, and prosecute elder abuse, neglect and exploitation [and] protect elders with diminished capacity while maximizing their autonomy.”
Provisions of the EJA
As noted below, the EJA created entities to help combat and coordinate responses to elder abuse and also strengthened reporting requirements:
- Establishing the Elder Justice Coordinating Council (Council)
- Establishing the Advisory Board on Elder Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation (Advisory Board)
- Providing support for Elder Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation Forensic Centers
- Requiring immediate reporting for crimes in long-term care facilities
- Imposing penalties for any retaliation against individuals reporting violations
- Directing a study on creating a national nurse aide registry to include criminal background checks
The Council and Advisory Board
The Council is responsible for coordinating the activities of federal, state, local and private agencies in combating elder abuse. The Council is required to provide reports and recommendations to Congress. It adopted its first recommendations in May 2014. The Advisory Board was established to support the Council in developing plans and recommendations to combat elder abuse. The Advisory Board is made up of 27 members who are appointed by the Secretary and who are experts in the field of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.
Elder Abuse Forensic Centers
The EJA authorized grants to create up to ten forensic centers which would develop expertise in identifying elder abuse and providing support services to victims. Specifically, the forensic centers are to:
- Develop criteria to determine when elder abuse has occurred and whether it amounts to a crime;
- Develop expertise in victim support and case evaluation, tracking and review; and
- Provide data to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the U.S. Attorney General.
Reporting Requirements and Penalties
While certain requirements to report incidents of elder abuse existed before the EJA was enacted, the EJA extended such requirements to long-term care facilities receiving at least $10,000 in federal funds. Under the EJA, owners, operators, employees, managers, agents, or contractors of such facilities (covered individuals) are required to report any reasonable suspicion of a crime against a resident or anyone receiving care from the facility.
The reports must be made both to the DHHS and to local law enforcement within twenty-four hours after a reasonable suspicion is formed. However, if the events causing reasonable suspicion could result in serious bodily injury, the reporting must be done within two hours after forming the suspicion.
If a covered individual fails to comply with the reporting requirement, that individual can be subject to a civil monetary penalty of up to $200,000. That penalty increases to $300,000 if the failure to report increased the harm to the victim or resulted in harm to another victim.
Additionally, owners of long-term care facilities are required to notify covered individuals annually of their reporting obligations under the EJA, as well as post related notices at their facilities. If a facility retaliates against an individual for filing a report, it can be subject to a civil monetary penalty of up to $200,000 and can be excluded from participation in any federal health care program for a period of two years.
For additional resources on elder abuse see FindLaw's Elder Abuse Overview and Types of Elder Abuse.
Additional information on federal and state resources available to victims of elder abuse is available at the Elder Justice Initiative of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Talk to an Elder Law attorney if you are not sure where to turn. They can help you understand the situation and find the best next steps to take.