TRENTON – In an effort to reduce incidents of abuse among vulnerable residents, legislation sponsored by Senator Fred H. Madden Jr. and Senator Joseph F. Vitale establishing a task force aimed at protecting senior citizens and individuals with disabilities cleared the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee today.
“Whether our loved ones are living in their home or in a facility designed to meet their needs, they should be able to live a life with dignity,” said Senator Madden (D-Gloucester/Camden). “Abuse can come in many forms – whether it is physical, mental or financial. People deserve the proper environment and care necessary to lead healthy lives. Preventing future incidents of abuse will help to ensure that they continue to do so.”
The bill, S-157, would create the New Jersey Task Force on Abuse Against the Elderly and Disabled. According to the legislation, the task force would evaluate current policies designed to protect older adults and individuals with disabilities. It would also identify existing circumstances of abuse, and develop recommendations for legislation, policies, and strategies that would help to protect senior citizens and disabled individuals from abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation.
Research has shown that signs of elder abuse may be missed by professionals working with older Americans because of lack of training on detecting abuse. The elderly may be reluctant to report abuse themselves because of fear of retaliation, lack of physical and/or cognitive ability to report, or because they don’t want to get the abuser (90 percent of whom are family members) in trouble. The numbers also show that female elders are abused at a higher rate than males and that the older the person is the more likely they are to be abused.
“In some instances, signs of abuse or neglect may be missed by health care workers or other professionals and victims may be fearful of reporting it. Experts say there is also no way to know how many people are suffering from elder abuse and neglect,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex). “Many individuals cannot fend for themselves, and abuse can take a toll on their physical and mental health. This is why it is crucial that we work to address this issue. By establishing a task force that will help to examine policies and solutions to protect our most vulnerable residents, we will reduce the likelihood of abuse and neglect in our communities.”
The task force would consist of 11 members representing the elderly and disabled community including agency officials, advocacy groups, and public members of the Legislature. Three of the public members would be appointed by the Governor while the Senate President and the Speaker of the Assembly would each appoint one public member. After 12 months, the task force would be required to submit a report of its findings with recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Elder abuse is a term referring to any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult.” Similarly, abuse of the disabled also occurs commonly by caretakers, family members and other service providers.In addition, financial exploitation of the elderly often includes consumer fraud such as prize scams and donations, according to the National Institute of Justice (NIJ).
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also reported that it is estimated that only 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse ever comes to the attention of authorities. Currently, there are 40.3 million elderly residents in the United States over the age of 65 and approximately 14 million adults aged 65 and over and 19 million adults aged 18 to 64 who have a disability. According to the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, senior citizens age 65 and older made up about 13.5 percent of New Jersey’s total population.
S-157 cleared the committee 7-0 and now heads to the full Senate for consideration.