According to the U.S. Department of Justice, older adult abuse is a serious and often underreported phenomenon. Statistics are difficult to interpret accurately when only one in every 23 cases is reported to the appropriate agencies.
"Older Americans" are considered anyone over age 60. Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or fraud against older people can come from family members, caregivers, or nursing home staff.
One of the major problems in combating elder abuse is detection. Victims often do not report incidents due to the following:
- Dependence on the perpetrator
- Feelings of fear, shame, or guilt
- Diminished trust
- Disabilities or physical impairment
- Financial hardship
- Mental incapacity
- Unawareness of financial exploitation
In response to growing concerns over older adult abuse, Congress passed the Elder Justice Act (EJA) as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This was signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010.
This Act supports Adult Protective Services (APS), a federal government form of social services focused solely on older adults.
Purposes of the EJA
The EJA applies to seniors aged 60 or older and is the first comprehensive national legislation to address elder abuse.
One of its objectives is coordinating responses to older adult abuse across federal and state agencies. It supports efforts for abuse prevention and early abuse detection.
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."
Legal and Social Provisions of the EJA
As noted below, the EJA created entities to help combat and coordinate responses to elder abuse.
It also strengthened reporting requirements such as:
- Establishing the Elder Justice Coordinating Council ("The Council")
- Establishing the Advisory Board on Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation ("The 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 coordinates 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. These centers developed expertise in identifying older adult abuse and providing support services to victims.
Specifically, the forensic centers:
- 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
- Provide data to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the U.S. Attorney General
Reporting Requirements and Penalties
Some requirements to report incidents of elder abuse existed before the EJA was enacted. In 2010 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.
Reporting Requirements: The Basics
The reports must be made to the DHHS and local law enforcement within 24 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 of forming the suspicion.
Penalties: The Basics
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 either:
- Increased harm to the victim
- Resulted in harm to another victim
Additional Requirements Under the EJA
Additionally, owners of long-term care facilities are required to:
- Notify covered individuals annually of their reporting obligations under the EJA
- 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. They can also be excluded from participating in any federal healthcare program for two years.
Additional Resources for Older Adult Abuse
See FindLaw's Elder Abuse Overview and Types of Elder Abuse for additional resources on elder abuse.
Federal and state resources are available to victims of elder abuse at the Elder Justice Initiative of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Talk to an older adult law attorney if unsure where to turn. They can help you understand the situation and find the best next steps.