COLUMBUS — Real estate agents, CPAs and firefighters are part of the expanded list of professions now required to report when they suspect a case of elder abuse.
New requirements begin today that broaden the definition of a mandatory reporter to pull in professions that have the ability to spot issues from many different perspectives. Those include pharmacists, dialysis technicians, firefighters, first responders, building inspectors, CPAs, real estate agents, bank employees, financial planners and notary publics.
Elder abuse can include exploiting another person’s resources; physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; or neglecting to meet the basic needs of someone. There were more than 16,000 reports of abuse, neglect and exploitation of Ohio adults aged 60 and older last year, though only about one in 14 cases are reported, according to the National Institutes of Health estimates.
“This expansion of mandatory reporters will help us in our goal of protecting our vulnerable family members, friends and neighbors from harm,” said Cynthia Dungey, director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, which supervises Ohio’s Adult Protective Services program.
The change expanding mandatory reporters reflects the wide range of ways that older adults can be abused, from being financially taken advantage of to living in neglect, officials said.
Brooke Lynch, supervisor of adult protective services at Montgomery County, said the county doesn’t expect a large increase in reporting because a multi-disciplinary team already exists including different financial services, Catholic Social Services, law enforcement, probate court and other agencies.
She said financial institutions are a primary place where exploitation can be recognized, and the team works to educate tellers to know the signs, like an older client appearing confused or distant or withdrawing unusual amounts of money.
“The teller is a good person of contact for that senior. They are used to seeing them. They are used to their patterns,” Lynch said. “They are often the front line person that recognizes changes.”
For the first seven months of this year, about 24 percent of the elder abuse cases in Montgomery County involved exploitation. The agency has eight full-time investigators, and officials said they have adequate staffing for any additional complaints that might be reported under the new requirements.
Indicators of elder abuse can include victims living isolated, missing appointments, appearing frightened or avoiding specific people. They might also suddenly withdraw from usual activities or interactions, change their mood or temperament, change their personal hygiene or become resistant to touching.
Some of the factors that raise the risk of elder abuse include dementia, poverty, declining health, previous experiences with domestic violence or other traumatic events, lack of a support system and a lack of access to community services.
Each county administers an adult protective services agency through its Department of Job and Family Services. Ohio has boosted its funding for adult protective services, although those funds are split between the state’s 88 counties. The state appropriated $2.7 million per year for adult protective services for 2018 and 2019. That’s slightly up from $2.6 million for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 and dramatically increased from prior years when about $500,000 a year was shared between counties, according to an analysis by Brie Lusheck of Center for Community Solutions, a Cleveland-based think tank.
Counties also use local funds to support their efforts in protecting older residents.
Lusheck wrote that many counties currently have adult protective services workers split their time with other programs, and although the state funding increase per county is not enough for a full salary, it was a significant investment for many counties.
Beth Kowalczyk, chief policy officer with Ohio Association of Area Agencies on Aging, said the $2.7 million doesn’t divide among counties to the equivalent of a full-time caseworker. Her organization and the Ohio Job and Family Services Directors Association have advocated for more state financial support for adult protective services.
“These are all great steps, increasing mandatory reporters and outreach and education but if we don’t have the resources to then respond, then I think we are still going to fall short in meeting the need,” Kowalczyk said.