As federal and state agencies, including those of Illinois, continue to grapple with the issues of elder abuse and neglect, the United States Congress has been slow to act on the pressing need to detect and combat elder abuse, neglect and exploitation. Such abuse can occur in a number of ways that include but are certainly not limited to physical violence, verbal abuse, emotional and mental trauma as a result of such treatment, as well as financial exploitation, and a lack of care that leads to malnutrition, illness, permanent injury, and death. Elder abuse continues to remain a problem, and it has been on Congress to try to fix this. The Elder Justice Act, as a subset of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (i.e. “Obamacare”), was a legislative effort to help guide these efforts on a more national scale. Through creating a Council and Advisory Board, the law sought to empower federal health officials to step up data gathering and the development of strategies and ideas to fix the problem of elder abuse. The law also funds these efforts, although recent calls have come for increased funding. Congress has also sought to tackle this problem in recent years through other legislation, although these bills have either failed miserably or failed to get the traction they have needed to come out of committees and go to the floors of Congress for actual votes.
Recent Elder Abuse Legislation
The Elder Abuse Victims Act of 2013 (House Resolution 861) is one such piece of proposed legislation. It would have promoted elder abuse victims’ rights through a program that would push states to hire personnel tasked specifically with investigating and prosecuting offenders, as well as gathering data and developing ways to combat elder abuse. The bill was introduced in February 2013 by Congressman Peter King, and while it was referred to a committee, it has not to date made it out of committee, and according to govtrack.us, stands little chance (2%) of being enacted.
Senate Bill 1750, called the Home Care Consumer Bill of Rights Act, was introduced by Senator Al Franken in 2011 and sought to do exactly what its title states: create a Bill of Rights for those receiving home care such that they will be safe from physical, mental, verbal and sexual harm as well as financial exploitation. It also sought to create ombudsman programs at the state level to monitor elder care. The bill died but was reintroduced in May 2013 as Senate Bill 998, only to remain languishing in committee with practically zero chance of becoming law. Additionally, Senate Bill 1019, the Elder Protection and Abuse Prevention Act, was reintroduced in May 2013 to step up support of states in preventing elder abuse. It was reintroduced by Senator Richard Blumenthal after a prior failure in a previous congressional session. This, too, has little chance of being enacted as it sits in committee on both the Senate and House sides (as House Resolution 3090).
Addressing the Problem
This post does not address the merits or wisdom of these particular bills. They are all generally valiant efforts by legislators to deal with the major problem of elder abuse and exploitation, and demonstrate an effort on individual legislators’ parts to support states in these efforts. With an overall Congress slow to do much these days, these bills stand little chance of seeing a main floor for a vote or even becoming law. This stagnation is disappointing, and leaves the states on their own in many respects to deal with elder abuse in nursing homes and anywhere else.
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