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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 full Assembly 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 comfortably and without fear,” said Senator Madden (D-Gloucester/Camden). “Seniors and individuals with disabilities deserve the proper environment necessary to lead healthy lives. Preventing incidents of abuse is so important and will help to ensure that some of our most vulnerable residents are treated with the love and care they deserve.”

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.

“By establishing this task force, we can hopefully reduce the likelihood of abuse and neglect in our communities, and better ensure residents are provided appropriate comfort,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex). “We know there have been unfortunate instances in which seniors and individuals with disabilities have suffered mistreatment and abuse at the hands of those entrusted with protecting them. We have to do more to make sure that our residents are safe.”

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 Assembly 71-0 and cleared the Senate 40-0 in March. It now heads to the governor’s desk.

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