Iowa considers elderly abuse legislation

BY MEGAN DEPPE | MARCH 13, 2014 5:00 AM

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As the next legislative funnel draws near, a bill addressing the abuse of older Iowans has been prepared for discussion. The proposed law would focus specifically on issues involving persons of age 60 and over. It would define abuse more thoroughly and set up an Elder Abuse and Resource Program.

The House of Representatives amended the bill on Wednesday by establishing the crime of financial exploitation, creating protective orders for elderly victims, and working to continue the task force that works to improve the system. This will be the first time that the abuse of older Iowans is addressed broadly, after two years of work by a task force in the Iowa Department of Aging. The funnel that the bill will pass through will take place on Friday.

Bob Welsh, a member of the task force and part of the Older Iowa Legislature, said the current bill requires the elderly victim to be dependent on a caretaker and the abuser in the caretaker role. “We want an adult-abuse bill that protects all Iowans,” Welsh said.

Welsh said the issue with this bill is that of the many reported cases of elderly abuse, a large percentage of cases do not fit into the definition of abuse in the current Dependent Abuse Bill. According to the Dependent Adult Abuse Statistical Report from the Iowa Department of Human Services, there were a reported 3,409 cases of abuse between July and December in 2013, and only 1,098 of those were accepted until the current terms.

Welsh said a resource and referral program “makes sense.” It would provide protection and support services for the elderly in question. “What an elder abused person needs is help and support,” he said.

Jeanette Daly, an associate research scientist in family medicine at the University of Iowa, said the bill should address the financial side of the issue. “The government needs to put more money into investigators for elder abuse,” she said. “Having a sole designation is the best way.”

Daly said each of the 99 counties in Iowa has a department of human services. However, only 38 of these counties have investigators for elderly abuse cases, while each county has at least one investigator for child abuse. Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, said that he hopes the bill will pass through the funnel without problems.

“We have had significant discussion on the terms of abuse and the lack of oversight,” he said. “It came out of [the Senate] with big support.” Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, said opinions were not so high in the House of Representatives when the bill was discussed on Wednesday.

“The Senate version [of the bill] creates a brand-new bureaucracy under a different department,” he said. “It’s difficult to get our arms around what this new bureaucracy is going to cost.” Baltimore said that the funding for what the bill proposed was not there and that he couldn’t “in good conscience” pass a new bureaucracy without that funding.

He also made the point that the department that would perform the investigation would have no experience in dealing with an investigation of elderly abuse.

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