Our society recognizes that there is essentially no excuse for abusive behavior of any type, especially as to children and other vulnerable people. Nevertheless, abuse happens.
Elder abuse occurs when any adult is abused, neglected or exploited. Notably, though, neglecting someone is not abuse unless there is a duty to care for that person.
Under Ohio law, an adult can be the subject of elder abuse. And, the definition of adult is someone who lives someplace other than a nursing home/facility (at home, usually), who is at least 60 years old, and who is particularly vulnerable to abuse due to age or medical condition (mentally or physically).
The signs of elder abuse are many and often include changes in physical appearance, personality or mood or finances. If a vulnerable person (like someone with limited ability to drive) acquires a new “best friend” or is withdrawing large sums of money, that can also be a sign of potential abuse.
To file a report of potential elder abuse, the reporter only needs “reasonable cause to believe” that an adult is being abused. If there is reasonable cause, the reporter has no legal liability for making a report. The only time a reporter could face liability for a report is if a report is made with bad faith or with a malicious purpose.
For someone to report potential elder abuse of someone living anywhere other than in a nursing home/facility, the report is made to the local, county Job and Family Services Office or law enforcement. Reports of potential elder abuse can be made orally or in writing, but if Job and Family Services needs clarification of an oral report, a written report may be requested.
For someone to report potential elder abuse of someone living in a nursing home/facility, the report of potential abuse is made to the Ohio Department of Health or law enforcement.
Thus, there are two different government offices for reporting elder abuse, and the reporting entity depends upon whether the person is in a nursing home/facility or not. Anyone who is not certain of the residential status of a potential victim of elder abuse can contact an attorney or law enforcement to ask for guidance of which office to contact.
Reports need not be perfect or overly detailed, but it definitely helps if the reporter can identify the potential victim of abuse by name and address and identify any caregivers. Of course, identifying the nature of the abuse (financial, neglect or exploitation) is also helpful along with what facts were witnessed that lead to the conclusion that there may be abuse.
Although literally anyone can report potential elder abuse, there are many professionals who are “mandatory reporters” who must report every instance when there is reasonable cause to believe that there may be abuse. Mandatory reporters include just about anyone who has a professional license in Ohio, including real estate agents, financial planners, clergy, accountants and dentists, whether those professionals became aware of the potential abuse professionally or personally.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.