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World Elder Abuse Awareness Day Commemoration

by Published On: Jun 18, 2012

On June 14, the White House hosted a day-long program on elder abuse awareness, focusing on federal efforts to coordinate education, training, protection and enforcement of laws protecting older Americans from abuse, focusing on financial exploitation. 

Besides me, there was a nice LeadingAge presence: 

  • Larry Minnix (who made a video about elder abuse after the meeting).
  • Dan Reingold (CEO of Hebrew Home of Riverdale, NYC, and founder of the first elder abuse shelter in a nursing home).
  • Joy Solomon (co-founder and director of the Hebrew Home shelter).
  • Rich Browdie (CEO, Benjamin Rose Institute, Chair, the Spry Foundation).
Kathy Greenlee, the assistant secretary for aging and the administrator of the Administration for Community Living (ACL), opened the program, emphasizing that the issue of preventing abuse of elders was an administration priority, as well as her own personal priority.

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), emphasized that elder abuse is an unrecognized civil and human rights issue; purpose of today’s program to raise public awareness, show concrete steps that federal government is taking. 

Elder Justice Coordinating Council

Sebelius announced the creation of the Elder Justice Coordinating Council (mandated in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act), which would coordinate federal agencies involved in preventing and prosecuting elder abuse (HHS, DOJ, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, FDIC, etc.). 

The secretary emphasized that this is a top priority at DOJ. However, she noted that enforcement alone is not the answer, must combine resources and expertise of all groups.

James Cole, deputy attorney general at DOJ, spoke on the type of actions the department is taking in such areas as combating Medicare fraud, and attacking consumer issues like lottery scams, reverse mortgage, scams, etc.

Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), talked about the need to use pilot projects to determine what works. He noted a study that showed older Americans lost $3 billion in 2010. 

Cordray announced that 1 agency initiative is to study credentialing of advisors. Also, the DOJ is looking at schemes directed at veterans, both young and old. The goal is to educate public about suspicious transactions.

Preventing financial exploitation of elders

After the presentations, there was a Panel on “Preventing Financial Exploitation.” Keynote speakers were: 

  1. Carolyn Colvin, deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration, who spoke about an SSA initiative to protect individual personal identifying information (PII), and a “centarian review” initiative (there are over 40,000 Americans over 100 right now!).

  2. Daniel Ludeman, who is with Wells Fargo Financial Advisors, who spoke on behalf of the Financial Services Round Table, which has made a robust commitment to prevent elder abuse, provide education to bank and investment company staff, public financial literacy program. He noted that fear of liability for violating privacy laws is one of the barriers to effectively protecting the elderly who are being scammed (the debate between elder’s right to autonomy and independence [it’s my money!] and protection [this is a scam] continued throughout the day, one of the big difficult questions everyone confronts). Dan also talked about development of legal response teams within banks to work with Adult Protective Services, educational programs, website.

Panel on preventing elder abuse

The panel presentation on prevention followed, moderated by Edwin Walker, deputy assistant secretary of the Administration on Aging and Administration for Community Living. 

The following people presented:

Laura Mosqueda, M.D., director of geriatrics at the U.C. Irvine School of Medicine: 

  1. Aging is accompanied by physical and mental changes that makes the elderly more susceptible to undue influence, easy targets for abuse.
  2. Financial abuse has serious physical consequences, loss, shame, depression lead to early death (“dying of a broken heart” became another theme).
  3. This is a community problem that needs a communal effort, we all have to work together, learn and understand the physical and emotional toll of financial abuse.

Rebecca Rangel, senior vice president of community affairs at Bank of the West, spoke about their work on education and outreach campaigns, the importance of finding out what is effective at reaching the public.

Dianne Shovely, vice president of of fraud services at Financial Intelligence Department, Comerica Bank, talked about various fraud schemes, how the elderly are “befriended” and then scammed. The importance of understanding the red flags.

Prosecution of elder abuse

In the afternoon, the panel presentation focused on prosecution:

  • Keynote speaker was Tony West, acting association attorney general at the DOJ, who emphasized the importance of training professionals to identify and respond to elder abuse, noted the creation of “Missing Link” project to include training of civil legal aid lawyers.

  • Panel was moderated by Andy Mao, senior counsel for health care fraud and elder justice, Civil Fraud Section of the DOJ, who emphasized the importance of collaboration.

  • Mark Lachs, co-chief, division of geriatrics and gerontology at Weill Medical College, Cornell University, pointed to elder abuse as a kind of epidemic, need to bring the tools of epidemiology to the issue, abuse is contagious, affects health, infects other systems because of impoverishment. As a doctor most of his cases stem from financial abuse, not physical. He is part of the NYC Elder Abuse Center, multi-disciplinary approach.

  • Page Ulrey, senior deputy prosecuting attorney for King County, Washington, talked about some of her cases. She showed a truly heartbreaking video deposition of 2 of her victims talking about how they were scammed out of life savings by the same person who acted as a caregiver for many elders. She emphasized the need for training, experts, that most prosecutors’ offices have no resources, no victim advocates, lack of understanding of crime and impact on victim.

  • Ricker Hamilton, director of the Office of Elder Services at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, spoke about how elder abuse victims affect multiple disciplines – financial, physical, neglect, sexual abuse, etc.

  • Charles Harwood, deputy director at the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission, talked about the FTC’s work on education and enforcement, building new consumer complaint system. Harwood said complaints from elders increase each year. He noted that the emotional impact on victims include rejection from their family. Harwood suggested a need for more peer counseling for elders.

  • MT Connelly, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, emphasized the costs to the system as well as individuals from financial crimes, including how when seniors are scammed out of their savings, they end up relying on public resources like Medicaid.

The final speakers were Catherine Weatherford, president and CEO of Insured Retirement Institute, who spoke to the work they are doing on retirement issues, and Hubert H. (Skip) Humphrey, the assistant director of the Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans, CFPB, who spoke about the work the office is doing in: 

  • Determining credentialing for investment advisers.
  • Creating record of types of abuse (request for information to be published next week in the Federal Register).
  • Creating a “plain English” guide for caregivers
  • A study on reverse mortgages to be released soon.

Kathy Greenlee closed the meeting, reiterating both her personal commitment and federal government’s commitment to address elder financial abuse.

All-in-all, a long day, but an impressive array of speakers. I'd say there is a lot for LeadingAge members to think about.

Ageless Alliance United Against Elder Abuse

Finally, a new coalition was announced: Ageless Alliance United Against Elder Abuse, a grass-roots movement connecting people of all age groups to identify, prevent and eliminate elder abuse, which will potentially affect you, me and every single one of us at some point in our lives. 


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