How Pennsylvania is Failing Abused Elders
February 18th, 2019 by Wapner Newman
Seniors are often frail, vulnerable, suffering from dementia, and may not be able to defend themselves, so it’s not surprising that they can easily become victims of elder abuse. Elder abuse occurs when someone harms, neglects or exploits an older or care-dependent person.
Unfortunately, crimes against the elderly are increasing in Pennsylvania. Caseworkers handled nearly 32,000 calls about potential elder abuse in the 2017-18 fiscal year, according to records from the Department of Aging, up from 18,500 five years earlier.
Sadly, county-level agencies are falling short in handling these complaints.
According to a report by the Pennsylvania Office of State Inspector General, many agencies have failed to properly investigate complaints under timelines required by state law and inadequate staffing of the state office that monitors those agencies. The report also criticized training requirements for caseworkers as being far too weak.
If you or your loved one has been a victim of elder abuse, you may be entitled to seek compensation by taking legal action against an individual or a facility that has been negligent or done deliberate damage. However, your case must be handled properly to ensure you get the settlement you deserve.
PA Elder Abuse Laws
Elder abuse and neglect is illegal in Pennsylvania. Abusive conduct covered by law includes:
- Illegal use of chemical and physical restraints
- Unreasonable confinement
- Physical or sexual harm, assault, harassment or abuse
- Depriving a patient of adequate care, food, water or medication
- Undue influence or coercion, intimidation
- Taking property or material and financial exploitation.
In 1997, the Pennsylvania Legislature mandated reporting of abuse on the elderly and care-dependent adults. The Pennsylvania Older Adults Protective Services Act (OAPSA) applies to all administrators and employees of long-term care facilities, older adult daily living centers and personal care homes, as well as personal care and home healthcare workers who provide services in a care-dependent person’s home. The Act also requires state police background checks for most long-term care workers.
In addition to physical abuse and neglect, financial abuse is common. According to a state Elder Abuse and Neglect Committee report, 16.1% of abuse cases investigated by Area Agencies on Aging in Pennsylvania involved substantiated complaints of financial abuse against elders, and it is estimated that as much as 30% of elder abuse cases may involve financial abuse.
Pennsylvania law provides for an emergency order from the Court of Common Pleas when there is clear and convincing evidence that, if protective services are not provided, an older adult is at imminent risk of death or serious physical harm. The local Area Agency on Aging or its designee can file for emergency intervention, and families or loved ones can also seek court intervention after a full hearing and proper notice. The court can order forcible entry to take custody of the senior and provide necessary services for 72 hours, after which a full hearing must be scheduled.
For financial abuse, Section 116 of the Pennsylvania Uniform Power of Attorney Act allows the care-dependent person, spouses, parents, children, grandchildren and named beneficiaries to seek court review.
If the dependent person is in a nursing facility, filing a complaint with the Department of Health can trigger an investigation by State Nursing Home Surveyors who can access the patient’s medical records and discuss care with facility staff. The Department of Health will review the case and issue a report on whether the complaint is substantiated. If a violation is found, the State may issue fines or take further actions—including removing patients from the facility if there is a safety threat. If the complaint is serious and has resulted in injury, you may have a civil case against the nursing facility.
What Are Signs of Elder Abuse and Neglect
Many victims are too afraid or embarrassed to report being abused, especially if dependent on the caregiver or the caregiver is a family member. It’s important to be aware of warning signs that a person is being abused or neglected, which include:
- Dehydration or malnutrition not related to a medical condition
- Unexplained weight loss
- Poor hygiene
- Unsanitary/unsafe living conditions
- Bedsores, bruises, cuts, broken bones, or welts
- Frequent falls
- Vaginal bleeding, genital bruises or sexually transmitted disease
- Refusal or reluctance to see a physician for injuries
- Depression or sudden change in mood, appearing withdrawn or refusing to speak
- Unexplained withdrawals from bank accounts, missing documents, unpaid bills.
Legal Action for Abusive Care
If you or a loved one was seriously injured or died because of elder neglect or abuse or lost substantial assets through a financial scam, you need legal assistance. The seasoned and compassionate Pennsylvania elder abuse attorneys at Wapner Newman offer a free consultation to examine the facts of your elder abuse situation. Our unique legal approach helps ensure that no stone is left unturned as we investigate and document every detail relating to your claim and do everything possible to get you the settlement you deserve.
Don’t let an abusive situation get worse. Contact us online or call our offices today for your free consultation.