Mandated Reporters

Elder (or senior citizen) abuse is on the rise in Riverside County, California, as well as every other state in the country.  Concerned family members and friends are encouraged to report suspected abuse to the proper authorities, but not all persons are required by law to do so.

California law does require that employees of certain agencies and businesses, both public and private, report suspected acts of elder abuse to local law enforcement or Adult Protective Services (APS).  These employees are called “mandated reporters” and their failure to report suspected abuse can result in criminal fines and/or jail time – depending upon the severity of the loss caused to the elder by the failure to timely report.

Mandated reporters include, of course, law enforcement agencies and APS.  In addition, nursing homes and residential care facilities for the elderly are also mandated reporters, as well as social workers and employees in the health care professions.

Did you know that mandated reporters also include any person who has assumed full or intermittent responsibility for the care or custody of an elder, whether or not he or she receives payment?  Future case law will define what “intermittent care” means and how it is applied, but impliedly it would include all family members who provide assistance to an elder, as well as friends and volunteers who visit in order to help out with laundry, washing dishes, light housework, and meal preparation. 

The types of abuse that must be reported include:

Physical abuse:

This can include unexplained signs of injury such as broken bones, swelling, bruises or welt marks.  A victim can appear lethargic – brought on by over medication or failure to take medication regularly.  Physical abuse can also be uncovered because of a caregiver’s refusal to allow you to see the elder alone.  This is often a tell-tale sign of abuse.  Isolation is a primary element of abuse because the perpetrator must hide the victim from the outside world so the abuse is not detected.

Emotional abuse:

Often, a perpetrator controls the elderly victim by making threats of physical violence or scaring the victim into believing that s/he will be put out on the street unless they comply with all demands.  After awhile, the relationship develops into what is known as the “Stockholm Syndrome” where the elder expresses adulation to the perpetrator for not inflicting abuse!  This is a very cruel form of senior or elderly abuse.

Neglect by caregivers or self-neglect:

Signs of hoarding, unsanitary living conditions, little or no food, untreated medical conditions, unusual weight loss, lack of personal hygiene, dirty clothing, and lack of water, electricity or gas are all indications of neglect – either by a caregiver or self-neglect by the elder.  These are certainly conditions that must be properly reported and acted upon.

Financial exploitation:

This is becoming an increasing problem at an alarming rate – as baby boomers are now becoming senior citizens.  Elders with dementia are particularly vulnerable.  A perpetrator can easily take advantage by having the elder sign a financial power of attorney.  With this document, the perpetrator can access all financial accounts and even transfer title of the elder’s home.  Indicators for this type of abuse include recently (and unexplained) changes to a living trust, Will, or powers of attorney, or a change of named beneficiaries to a person who previously had little or no involvement in the elder’s life. 

Investigating financial abuse takes a little more digging.  A review of bank statements can reveal whether unusual ATM withdrawals are being made.  Understanding what a “trust” is and then reading the terms of that trust to identify whether improper actions have been taken – requires a bit more investigative work.  However, if discovered, it can prevent any further financial bleeding and may save the elder’s property and life’s savings.

This is not an exhaustive list of all of the types of abuse that mandated reporters are required to report.  However, it identifies the Who and What of mandated reporting and should be of benefit to all who take on the responsibility of assisting and protecting the elderly population.

If you or a loved one have been the victim of such senior abuse, then pick up the phone and give us a call.  The initial telephone consultation is always free.  We’re here to help.

Copyright.  2007 – 2012.  Law Office of George F. Dickerman.  All rights reserved.