The Executive Office of Elder Affairs is required by law to administer a statewide system for receiving and investigating reports of elder abuse, and for providing needed protective services to abused elders when warranted. To fulfill this responsibility, Elder Affairs has established 22 designated Protective Services (PS) agencies throughout the Commonwealth to respond to reports of elder abuse. Elder abuse includes physical, emotional and sexual abuse, neglect by a caregiver, self-neglect and financial exploitation. The goal of protective services is to remedy or alleviate the abusive situation and to prevent the reoccurrence of abuse.
Reporting Elder Abuse
Elder abuse reports may be made to the appropriate designated PS agency or the statewide Elder Abuse Hotline (1-800-922-2275), which operates on a seven days a week, 24 hours a day basis. Typically, elder abuse reports are made to PS agencies during normal business hours and to the Hotline during after-hours periods, on weekends and holidays.
Anyone can make an elder abuse report. However, the law requires certain professionals to report suspected incidents of abuse. Mandated reporters who fail to make elder abuse reports when appropriate are subject to a fine up to $1,000. In addition, the law provides mandated reporters with immunity from any civil or criminal liability that otherwise could result from making a report, provided the reporter did not commit the abuse. Persons who are not mandated reporters have the same immunity, as long as they make a report in good faith.
Once an elder abuse report is received, a trained PS caseworker is assigned to investigate the allegations. If the investigation results in the confirmation of one or more types of abuse, the elder is offered an array of services to address the situation. In cases of serious abuse, the PS agency must make a report to the District Attorney for possible prosecution.
An elder who has the capacity to make informed decisions has the right to refuse services. However, court ordered services must be sought on behalf of abused elders who are unable to make informed decisions, and are at risk of serious harm. In addition, protective services must be provided in the least restrictive and appropriate manner possible. This means that in-home and community based services are given preference over institutional placement.
In fiscal year 2005, 11,503 elder abuse reports were received and there were 3,713 newly confirmed cases of elder abuse. These numbers represent increases of over 16% for both categories when compared to fiscal year 2004 numbers. The average monthly Protective Services caseload, which includes new cases and previously opened cases, increased by 13.5% in fiscal year 2005, from 2,523 to 2,864 cases per month.