Sunday, April 19, 2015

Elder Abuse & Neglect Investigations

Suspect an elderly person is being abused or neglected? Call on us to help.
Every day, in millions of homes across the United States, numerous home health care workers are helping to meet the basic needs of America's older adults — cooking, cleaning and assisting with activities of daily living. Nearly 10 million adults age 65 and older receive care at home or in a residential care setting other than a nursing home. That number is projected to skyrocket as the 65-plus population rises from 40 million today to over 70 million by 2030, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.

While many home health care workers are first-rate, others could be your worst nightmare. Financial, physical and emotional abuse of the elderly is on the rise, indicated by the increased number of arrest warrants and abuse complaints nationwide. Research shows that 1 in 10 Americans 60 and older have experienced some form of abuse. But even as prosecutors around the country target elder abuse, many cases go unreported. Some older adults fear that if they complain, they will end up in a nursing home. Those with dementia may not be able to remember that they have been abused: Studies show that more than a third of people with dementia suffer psychological or physical abuse at the hands of people providing care. Meanwhile, their natural advocates and watchdogs — family members — often live hundreds or thousands of miles away never knowing abuse is taking place.

An Unregulated Industry

The National Center on Elder Abuse, a federally (taxpayer) funded initiative that serves as a coordinating body and clearinghouse for research and training on elder abuse and neglect reports that the intersection of a growing elderly population with a flourishing, virtually unregulated industry of home health care workers as the real culprit.

There are no federal regulations covering home-care workers, other than broad standards for care provided under Medicaid. Only about half of all states require home-care agencies to conduct any sort of training for their employees. Only 15 states require agencies to conduct periodic in-home inspections to make sure workers are doing their jobs. Most states require criminal background checks of home-care workers but do not require agencies to check records in other states.

According to a 2012 study published by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that less than a third of home-care agencies screened their employees for illegal drug use, and only 16 percent tested for basic knowledge about providing care in the home.

Many agencies charge $50 or more an hour, but do not invest in education, training and supervision for their employees. Personal care workers and home-health workers are the country's second and third fastest growing occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That has not led to higher pay or benefits for workers. One in four home-care workers live below the federal poverty line, and a third lack health insurance, according to the Paraprofessional Health-Care Institute, a Bronx, New York-based research and advocacy group. Long hours and low pay — the median wage is less than $10 an hour — contribute to  high turnover and inconsistent, unprofessional care.

Families remain the bedrock of home care to ailing seniors. An estimated more than 42 million family members provide care to an older adult. But there is a growing care gap, as boomers transition from giving care to needing care themselves.

Across the United States, lawmakers are beginning to recognize the need to ensure better care for homebound seniors. With money from the Affordable Care Act (ACA), six states are working to develop more rigorous standards fro training and assessing home-care workers. And several nonprofit groups have created registries to match the needs of seniors living at home with home health care workers who have specialized skills, such as working with those with dementia or Alzheimer's. The Elder Justice Act, which Congress approved as part of the ACA, provides for spending of $500 million to help state and local adult-protective services better detect and prevent elder abuse. But lawmakers have yet to authorize any money for the program.

Suspect an elderly person is being abused or neglected? We can help.

Brian Blackwell Investigations | Seattle, Washington