It's frustrating that Iowa, a state with a rapidly growing senior and elderly population, doesn't already have a law focused on elder abuse — that is, a comprehensive law that specifically addresses the unique needs of all older adults who are victims of abuse, neglect and exploitation.
Iowa does have a more general dependent abuse law dealing with cases of physical or sexual abuse, financial exploitation and denial of care. But for the Iowa Department of Human Services to intervene in cases of suspected abuse under that law, there must be:
— A dependent adult: Someone whose mental or physical condition makes him unable to perform or obtain services necessary to meet his essential human needs and depends on the assistance of another person.
— A caretaker: That other person, related or non-related, who has the responsibility for the protection, care and custody of the dependent adult.
— A specific allegation of physical abuse, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, financial exploitation, denial of critical care by the caretaker or self-denial of critical care by the dependent adult.
Thus, the current system, unfortunately, does not address the needs of older victims of abuse or exploitation who are not considered "dependent" and who do not have a specific "caretaker." Nor does the current law address the needs of seniors and elderly persons who are the victims of constant verbal or psychological abuse or abandonment.
Unfortunately, groups and organizations — such as the Elder Abuse Intervention Coalition and the Heritage Agency on Aging — are finding that without a more comprehensive law in place, a growing number of very troubling cases of elder abuse are falling through the societal cracks. And various studies of elder abuse over the past decade suggest that for every one case of elder abuse actually reported, there are somewhere between five and 14 case cases that go unreported.
Over the past few years, some progress has been made legislatively. At the end of this year's legislative session, for example, the approved Health and Human Services budget bill included provisions to continue the state's Elder Abuse Task Force and to create a Legislative Interim Committee to work on proposed legislation that would address the task force's findings.
But there still are many unanswered questions about how such a law would work once passed: Who will be in charge of enforcing it? Will additional money be made available those agencies charged with enforcing the new law? What additional training will be required of those charged with enforcing the new law? Et cetera.
That's why the Johnson County Task Force on Aging will be holding a community forum on elder abuse beginning at 2 p.m. Monday in the Coralville Public Library. The panel includes several people well versed in the back and forth of this political discussion — from state politicians, to members of the Elder Abuse Task Force, to University of Iowa professors, to the regional protective services coordinator from Heritage Agency on Aging.
We encourage anyone interested in improving the protections available to Iowa's seniors to attend.
Iowa City Press-Citizen
Sept. 6, 2013